Friday 19 December 2014

AIA Reiterates its Policies on the Antiquities Trade

The Auctioneer
A Letter from the (AJA) Editor-in-Chief Sheila Dillon January 2015
 [...] Finally, in light of recent events both in this country and abroad, it is important to restate that the AJA maintains its commitment to protecting archaeological heritage. In keeping with the 2004 policy of the AIA, the AJA will not accept any article that serves as the primary publication of any object or archaeological material in a private or public collection acquired after 30 December 1973 unless its existence is documented before that date or it was legally exported from the country of origin.

In addition, given the recent and continuing threats to the archaeological sites and material culture of countries such as Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Libya, the Editor-in-Chief and members of the Advisory Board condemn in the strongest possible terms the recent sale of Egyptian artifacts and the scheduled sale of Mesoamerican artifacts by the AIA St. Louis Society through the auction house Bonhams. While technically not illegal, the sale of the Egyptian antiquities certainly violated the spirit if not the letter of the agreement that brought the objects to St. Louis in the first place. The selling off of archaeological artifacts in the society’s possession not only contravenes the ethical standards current in archaeology but also reinforces the commodification of archaeological material and in effect condones the traffic in antiquities, which is in opposition to the AIA’s principal missions of research and education. As stewards of the past, no one associated with the AIA should be incentivizing the illicit trade in antiquities, which is a global criminal activity. High-profile sales such as these can have the unintended consequence of putting further at risk the archaeological heritage that the AIA has vowed to protect.
Of course collectors will also tell you they are "stewards of the past" so it behoves the AIA to explain what they mean by that term. Does any sale of an archaeological artefact always "incentivise the illicit trade in antiquities"? I'm not really sure about that. I've always accepted that there is a clear line between licit and illicit, and I would say that as long as that distinction is not blurred (which of course those in the trade wish it to be) then the trade in licit artefacts - clearly identified and verified as such - could have the opposite effect.

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