Thursday 26 March 2020

Dealing with the Antiquities Trade Virus

1970s dinosaurs Missing the point,
  Telegraph Bob Moran cartoon, March 21
"In the battle against looted antiquities, modern technology and expert knowledge are combining to return ancient artefacts to their rightful owners" witters the Times (David Sanderson, 'Hi-tech hunt for looted antiquities' Thursday March 26 2020).
Egyptologists from the British Museum have identified about 4,500 antiquities thought to have been illegally trafficked, as part of a new tactic to keep track of items for sale online. They have put together a database for law enforcement agencies that deploys sophisticated software to keep tabs on “ephemeral” websites that pop up for a matter of days to sell artefacts and then disappear. [...] "there are increasing moves to sell antiquities directly using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms.”
since 1995 when direct internet trading of antiquities just exploded the old market, he means? The adjectival phrase 'high tech' means here "using the Internet"...

There is a very serious problem in conceptualising the antiquities trade in my view. In fact, there are  two. The first is that we are stuck in thinking of the trade in portable antiquities as it was in the 1960s, when the 1970 UNESCO Convention was written. This necessarily refers to the pre-1970 market, and it is where we are still conceptually, even though that market and its clientele have changed immeasurably since those days. Duh.

Secondly, focusing - as here - on the issue of repatriation (also a child of the 1970s) has overtaken expounding the broader point about portable antiquities collecting. This article in a 'serious' British newspaper does not criticise the trading of loose portable antiquities in itself, just the bits of it that we see as 'illicit' (judging by 1970s criteria). This is *exactly* the same as the "as long as we're/they're not nighthawks" argument condoning collection-driven trashing of the archaeological record in the UK. "As long as it's not illegal, it's OK by us". No, no it jolly well should not be. Wantonly trashing the archaeological record should be something that nobody should be OK with.

So I say that, like with any other kind of a virus, we cannot just treat the nastiest symptoms of the antiquities market, but we need to stop its spread - for example by social isolation of the people that buy and collect this stuff. Remove public acceptance of artefact hunters and collectors, and do it now.  STOP writing the feelgood stuff and tell the antiquities market as it is. Nasty and damaging.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.