Tuesday, 7 January 2020

The Issue of the Green Collection Cunies (and 'Green Scholar Initiative') Will Not Go Away

I thought I'd already blogged this, but perhaps that was in a parallel universe. A new book is out and being discussed: Tablets from the Irisaĝrig Archive by Marcel Sigrist and Tohru Ozaki. Here's the publisher's blurb:
While each of the previously known archives from the Third Dynasty of Ur has provided distinct views of Sumerian society, those from Iri-Saĝrig present an extraordinary range of new sources, depicting a cosmopolitan Sumerian/Akkadian city unlike any other from this period. In this publication, Marcel Sigrist and Tohru Ozaki present more than two thousand newly identified tablets, mostly from Iri-Saĝrig. This unique and extensive corpus elucidates the importance that Iri-Saĝrig represented politically, militarily, and culturally in Sumer.
Although these tablets were not able to be cleaned, baked, or photographed, the authors’ transliterations are based on the original tablets, often after repeated collations. Moreover, access to so many well-preserved tablets made it possible to improve upon the readings and interpretations offered in previous publications. Volume 1 contains a catalog and classification of the texts by provenance, a list of month names and year formulas, another of inscriptions, a chronological listing of the texts, and extensive indexes of personal names, deities, toponyms, and selected words and phrases. Volume 2 presents the texts in transliteration with substantial commentary.
This two-volume publication preserves and makes available to the scholarly community a significant segment of Iraq’s cultural legacy that otherwise might have been ignored or even lost. It will augment and enhance our understanding of the unique civilization of Mesopotamia in the late third millennium BCE.
I do hope the book goes into more detail about why they might have been "lost" (see below). As readers of this blog will know, Irisagig is a site known only from looted artefacts that have surfaced on the market only in recent years.

Owen Jarus discusses this book, and pieces together some more facts about these tablets (1,400 Ancient Cuneiform Tablets Identified from Lost City of Irisagrig in Iraq. Were They Stolen?, Live Science 7th January 2020):
The 1,400 Irisagrig tablets, along with 600 cuneiform tablets from other archaeological sites in Iraq, are detailed in the book "Tablets From the Irisagrig Archive" (Eisenbrauns, 2019) by Marcel Sigrist, professor emeritus at École biblique et archéologique française de Jérusalem, and Tohru Ozaki, a retired lecturer at the University of Shizuoka in Japan. The tablets were recorded by hand, but not photographed, between 2012 and 2016, during which time "they were in Oklahoma in the storerooms of Hobby Lobby," Sigrist told Live Science. "They bought these tablets — I never knew how it happened. It was not really my business" Sigrist said.
Ahem... well, if you are a responsible scholar handling items like this, yes it jolly well is your business to find out exactly what their collecting history is before you even agree to make sure you are not handling stolen goods or becoming involved in an illicit antiquities case. That is quite apart from establishing the integrity of the assemblage of artefacts as such. I cannot see how doing ethical research can be something to just shrug shoulders over. Anyway, here are some of the sort of details - actually quite significant - that Prof. Sigrist failed to interest himself in: Evidence of Consortium Hoarding looted Iraqi Artefacts (PACHI Friday, 7 July 2017). Mr Jarus goes on:
In 2017, Hobby Lobby paid a $3 million fine for importing artifacts illegally from Iraq, and the company forfeited about 450 cuneiform tablets [...] that were returned to Iraq [link here PMB], a settlement statement from the U.S. Department of Justice said. However, 223 of those 450 cuneiform tablets were seized in January 2011 in Memphis, Tennessee, by U.S. Customs and Border Protection [link here PMB]. Though Sigrist didn't have the opportunity to study those tablets, another scholar, named Eckart Frahm, did. He described them in a 2017 interview with Live Science. A few of those 223 tablets contain 4,500-year-old magical incantations, Frahm said at the time. The combination of the 1,400 newly published tablets from Irisagrig, 600 newly published tablets from other Iraq sites and 223 tablets that were seized in January 2011 means that the total number of cuneiform tablets once owned by Hobby Lobby exceeds 2,200. After the Sigirst and Ozaki studied the tablets, some of the artifacts now appear to be missing [...] [it seems] that only up to 817 cuneiform tablets out of the 2,200 that Hobby Lobby had could have been returned to Iraq.
Where are the rest? When did they go missing? But it seems even more Green Collection cunies are still unaccounted for, if a February 2012 text by Bible scholar Ben Witherington (The Ripening of the Green Collection) can be believed:
The principal holdings of the collection include:
The third largest holding of cuneiform tablets in North America (over 10,000 pieces);
The second largest holding of incantation bowls in the world and a substantial holding of biblical-era ceramic ware and statuary;
The second largest holding of Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts outside museums in Israel and Jordan;
The largest holding of biblical papyri in North America and more than the sum total of all institutions in North America and the fifth largest holding in the word
I simply do not understand the next bit that is reported in the text by Owen Jarus:
Sigrist said that after 2016 he never received any communication from Hobby Lobby. "When I approached them, I never received any answer anymore," and he decided to describe the tablets in a publication so that scholars could become aware of the artifacts' existence. Hobby Lobby has not responded to requests for comment. 
This is hugely problematic, because first of all, if he did not have the owner's permission (or any communication at all from them), by what 'right' is he publishing them? Secondly, why was his name included on the (now-deleted) Green Scholars Initiative webpage as one of their senior scholars in 2015 (PACHI Thursday, 29 October 2015, 'The Ethical Pitfalls of Working on "Possibly Illicit Artefacts"...')? [anybody got a waybackmachine archive link to this? [Update - link in comments now, thanks]] By the way, note my comment five years ago on 'it seems no eastern European specialist and few Middle Eastern ones was keen to take up the invitation to join'.


Brent said...


Paul Barford said...

Thanks Brent...

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