Thursday, 14 December 2017

Antiquities trade: Is it any wonder we are where we are?

A few days ago, a lobbyist for the no-questions-asked antiquities trade Peter Tompa published an article on his 'Cultural Property Obfuscator' blog called 'Hipster Internet Art Newsletter Raises Alarm About Antiquities being "Weaponized" for Political Purposes' which aims to discuss the text by Professor Michael Press ('How Antiquities Have Been Weaponized in the Struggle to Preserve Culture' discussed by me here). Rather than addressing the issue discussed, that is the weaponisation of cultural heritage by the US government (and the fact that in order to do that, the state has been lying to its citizens) we find the tenor of the ensuing discussion rather telling. One collector wrote somewhat emotionally but apparently in all seriousness (December 9, 2017 at 1:49 AM):
Hello Peter: These peddlers of heritage fake news, mostly academic grant-grabbers (with a smattering of pig-ignorant camp followers) having an axe to grind, or, working to private agendas, rightly deserve censure. The street-corner rabble-rousers have been caught bang to rights with their fingers in the propaganda cookie jar. I'm sure many loud-mouthed propagandists know the game is up and will be running for cover to both protect their backsides and what’s left of their reputations. Happy days ahead perhaps.
Here we see the tendency prevalent in the political right to reduce any political issue to the personal level, and then by overloading their text with epithets and derogatory adjectives to demonise those implicated. Another feature is the implication that when thus-demonised opposing views are silenced, some form of social utopia will emerge. Senior coin dealer Wayne Sayles (December 11, 2017 AT 4:24 PM) goes down the same road, blaming anything and everything on his own private bugbear, archaeologists. He has his own views about what needs to go to bring about a pie-in-the-sky  'Fel Temp Reparatio'.
Fact #1: Ancient coins have been collected and traded from literally the beginning of their existence in the 7th century BC.

Fact #2: No culture on earth ever considered, much less imposed, trade controls on ancient coins before the rise of archaeology as a "science" and the acceptance of these scientists as "experts".

Fact #3: Many millions, if not billions, of ancient coins legally crossed national boundaries without controls of any kind as late as the early 20th century when archaeology (once a hobby itself) started to achieve some recognition as an academic subject of interest. There is literally no way to determine modern ownership of ancient coins based on point of origin.

Fact #4: Between 1970 and 2017 the archaeological community has aligned itself with a progressive socialist ideology that radically opposes private ownership.

Fact #5: Radicals never let truth prevail and readily pervert truth for the "greater good".

Is it any wonder we are where we are?
No, with this kind of reasoning, it is no wonder that we are where we are.  So-called 'facts 1-3' are a smokescreen, if antiquities (this is not just about coins) have a collecting history that allows them to be shown to be part of that earlier phase of the circulation of collectables, then there is no problem. The problem is that dealers like Mr Sayles consider it perfectly acceptable to move large numbers of antiquities around the market he inhabits without any documentation of licit orgins and no-questions-asked. His problem is that opinion is shifting away from acceptance of such a state of affairs, nineteenth century trade models based on anonymous and colonialist exploitation no longer look, in the twenty-first century, as 'acceptable' and moods are beginning to swing away from the free-for-all/anything-goes' trade model favoured by many of the dealers in operation today who, for the most part, demonstrably pay only lip service to the concerns. 

So-called fact #4 is an egregious example of the sort of weasel wording these people use. The issue is not 'private ownership' (as Mr Sayles, slow to learn, obviously has been told many times). There is nothing 'radical' about accepting that - given the realities of the day -  if one wants to buy certain commodities, then there are requirements to ensure they are of licit origins, and to be able to demonstrate that when they are passed on to  new owner. Like a second-hand car, or a venus fly-trap (protected species in the wild).  Once again we see the political right in action, anything even vaguely relatable to 'communism' is automatically demonised in their minds, even if the actual accusation is so entirely in the face of logic it leaves normal folk scratching their heads in bewilderment at such a logic-lapse. Sayles' Fact five I would apply to antiquities dealers.

 Is it any wonder we are where we are?

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