Monday, 28 August 2017

Is There a Cure for Impotence?

A need to talk of our impotence
Roberta Mazza on her excellent 'Faces and Voices: People, Artefacts, Ancient History blog has a piece on 'The eBay experience' (August 28, 2017). Roberta has been looking at the online market for decontextualised ancient (or reputedly ancient) papyri for some time. She was one of those alerting the heritage community to what one of them (Mixantik-Ebuyerrrr) has been up to from his base in Turkey. In this post she introduces  luck_button, another long-active Turkish seller and addresses the problem of
the e-commerce platform through which Robert and others can freely and easily offer their manuscripts and other antiquities for sale in a very convenient way. Convenient for buyers, sellers and above all for those who own the platform in question: eBay is listed 310 in the 2017 Fortune list of the 500 world leading companies. It is hard to quantify the overall amount of antiquities (licit and illicit, genuine and fake) which are exchanged through the platform, but to give you an idea of the size and profit margins, today there are 1,531 Egyptian antiquities and 3,974 antique (sic) manuscripts on sale through the UK platform, only to mention objects at the centre of my interest.
She discusses eBay policy on ancient artefacts eing sold without any supporting documentation of legal collecting histories (in effect, next to no policy) and the ability of viewers to report suspicious transactions (next to none) .
As an academic who feels responsible of the objects I study, I had been able in the past to get in contact directly with the eBay policy office and they usually act quickly when some bids are flagged as potentially illegal. But it is clear that more proactive and structural measures should be put in place to tackle the problem.  The reality is that everything seems allowed because too many collectors/dealers, as the two who purchased the papyri at the centre of this post, do not respect the laws and ethics underpinning such exchanges [...]. Moreover, eBay policies enforcement seems inefficient at best, and police active control is also low, even more so in the UK where the Art and Antiques Unit seems to be under threat of closure. Despite all the rhetoric on heritage preservation, and the amount of public money put in various programs, the truth is that this kind of everyday unregulated and unethical (when not illegal) market is slowly killing our cultural heritage in the open and apparently with the consent of everyone implied in the transactions.
and all in the heritage community who just sit by and watch. It should also be noted that, while one of the first, and best known, there are many other online venues where antiquities are sold with equally lax controls of what actually comes onto the market, where it came from and where it goes. This passive impotence in the face of the vigor of the online sales of unprovenanced antiquities has been going on now since the mid 1990s.

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