Thursday, May 25, 2006


Rethinking Antiquities (again)

Last Friday, I promised to revisit the subject of collecting antiquities this week. (Here, here and here are my other related posts.)

I have only this to add: Museums' assertions that they are now revising their policies because the times and the standards have changed are more than a little disingenuous. It seems clear that museums were always aware of (or at least suspected) the shady circumstances surrounding many of the objects they were offered. To say they acquired these in "good faith" is a stretch.

What HAS now changed is that these dicey dealings are being exposed and source countries are beginning to take vigorous action---assembling persuasive evidence and launching legal proceedings. Activities that previously didn't tarnish museums' reputations now do.

That's not to say I believe in the wholesale migration of museum objects back to the source countries, as readers of my previous musings know. This is truly an issue that cries out for compromise, because all sides have dirt on their hands---obviously the looters, but also the museums that deliberately didn't ask too many questions, and the authorities in the source countries, who for years notoriously neglected the urgent task of policing their own archaeological sites and porous borders.

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