Monday, 17 March 2014

Anneli Sundkvist on the Antiquities Market

Photo Anneli Sundkvist
Anneli Sundkvist, '”It belongs in a museum!” Om antikvitetsmarknaden och plundring av arkeologiska platser', SAU blogg 19 Feb 2014.

"In the latest episode of Antiques Roadshow viewers could see how a Late Viking period costume buckle was shown, dated and valued at 50,000 kr. Many archaeologists were angered by this and the National Heritage Board and Upplandsmuseet responded almost immediately by clarifying what is the correct approach for those who run into ancient find.  Many archaeological objects have come to light by chance or in connection with the farm work. Archaeological items are the common heritage and if an individual finds something, the find must be reported.

The article points out that there are archaeological objects which are privately owned by means which the law allows and are thus entirely legal. A common characteristic of all of them is that they have documentation where you can follow the ownership back in time. If such documentation is lacking, it is likely to object come on the market in a questionable manner. It may have occurred through regular looting or unreported findings of a private person.

The rest of the article is a presentation of the idea that the reactions to non-reporting artefact hunters is by no means an exaggeration, in the context of the international market and the global plague of archaeological looting. (Britain, are you listening?)

She refers to the work of Staffan Lundén, University of Gothenburg, citing a 2012 article of his:
"Poor and war-torn countries are especially badly affected by the looting. The markets for the loot are mainly located in the more affluent parts of the world. Thus, the flow of objects is from south to north, from east to west, from the poor to the wealthy, from the powerless to the powerful. The trade may, in this respect, be seen as a continuum of a centuries-old western tradition of building up museum collection from 'distant' and 'foreign' peoples and countries".
Far from allowing people to believe that looting is "therefore a problem that hardly concerns us in Sweden, a rich country with quite strong legislation regarding damage to cultural heritage", the fact is that Sweden is a part of the market which enables the looting of poor countries. She also discusses the problem of a Swedish market for WW2 items dug up on battlefields, and who knows where else, in central and eastern Europe.
 Those killed were buried on the battlefield on the Eastern Front seventy years ago may well have comrades and relatives still alive. It is no longer simply a question of looting archaeological sites but also desecrating graves, which may be perceived as a form of abuse of the survivors. Why is this done? Because there's a market. A market where documentation is not requested by either the dealers or buyers. 

Another dilemma posed by the no-questions-asked market is summed up by the woody heading "Utan proveniens = plundrat eller förfalskning? [Without provenance = looted or Fake?]", a point also covered in the article by Staffan Lundén who sees this the key to persuading collectors to pay attention to documenting collecting histories establishing authentic origins.

Anneli Sundkvist thinks this is not the only approach that is needed, she urges that we should work harder to erode the view that archaeological artefacts are just 'art objects' to be admired and valued as such (a good point she raises is this means addressing he way museums exhibit them), but as components of a wider whole.  She raises the parallel of objects of ivory, and the fact that their value is reliant on their owner proving "that they were processed Before 3 March 1947".

Ref: Lundén, S. 2012, 'Perspectives on looting, the illicit antiquities trade, art and Heritage', Art, Antiquity and Law 17, 109-134. 

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