Thursday, 1 March 2018

Threatened but not Cowed, Expert Gives Other Academics Good Advice

Roberta Mazza has written an interesting article on some recently 'surfaced' ('from underground?') unpapered papyri that pulls no punches ('The Illegal Papyrus Trade and What Scholars Can Do to Stop It' Hyperallergic ) that focuses on a fragment containing a bit of the text of Galatians that appeared out of nowhere on eBay in 2012. Her research into its origins raised troubling questions - and offered some light on the sort of people that openly sell unpapered antiquities:
I did a Google search for Robert’s cell-phone number, which led me straight to his real name and address. eBay shut down the account, and I filed a report with the London Metropolitan Police’s Art and Antiquities Unit. In light of what has happened since then, I do not recommend entertaining conversations with people of this kind. I have received threats of acid attacks and other abuses. Do not be as silly as I have been: I am not in a nice place at the moment.
Readers of this blog will know that people involved in portable antiquities do not appreciate any kind of criticism and have in the past reacted not only with frequent threats and abuse but in at least one case seem to be implicated in actual physical attacks not only against the critic, but also his family. Dealers who hide behind assumed names and aim to profit from the sale of unpapered artefacts that have arrived in their country via unknown processes probably will stop at nothing to protect their interests, in which they may well be mixed up with some very unsavoury suppliers. Should we therefore simply turn a blind eye and shy from confronting the issue? Certainly that is what the entire contingent of dealers-that-call-themselves-responsible do, judging from the number who are apparently not suffering acid attack threats and attacks on their children. But what kind of 'responsibility' is that, which runs away from confronting the evil in their own industry? Should it not be 'responsible-dealers-worthy-of-the-name' who should be at the forefront of attempts to stamp out, corrupt and abusive practices in the trade, threatening behaviours of their colleagues and fellows in the trade, and those who sell potentially smuggled artefacts? Roberta however is not cowed by the loutish behaviour of those intent on preserving the 'rights' of the no-questions-asked antiquities trade:

We academics must help protect the objects we study. Some of my colleagues believe that scholarship comes first, or say that texts have no guilt, so we should be faithful to them. They publish what emerges from the market. I disagree. To publish papyri with suspicious — if not illegal — provenance is unethical. It lends a new identity to those artefacts and feeds the illicit market. Looting and illicit excavations in Egypt not only destroy the archaeological landscape forever, but also have also caused deaths and injuries to Egyptians, including children, employed to dig in narrow shafts. In 2016, two archaeological guards, Ashrawy and Mustafa Ali, were shot dead by looters in action. And there is good reason to believe that many crimes go unreported in the current political and economic climate. (That said, in the UK, academics who facilitate exchanges of improperly-obtained antiquities can be charged for money laundering.) So what should we do with all of these suspiciously-sourced fragments? They should be immediately returned to the legitimate owner: Egypt. (Egyptian authorities may eventually reach a deal with the collectors for study and publication before repatriation.) Those who study papyri must exercise due diligence before publishing anything, and academics should exercise an active role in educating collectors and keeping an eye on the market. Would you knowingly buy a stolen bike? Why would you buy — or publish — a stolen manuscripts?
And just what is it that the 'Christian' Green Collection and the Bible Museum are mixed up in? Acid attackers and cold-blooded site guard shooters don't really seem to me to be the sort of people Jesus would have his followers siding with.

Vignette: Mentally disturbed acid attacker

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