Wednesday, May 31, 2006


The Tainted Source

It's the worst-case abuses (think Enron) that often wind up causing reforms that change the rules for everyone, even those who are relatively blameless.

This dynamic is at work in the new self-imposed strictures that museums are applying to their acquisitions of unprovenanced antiquities.

But a new antiquities-related scandal, reported yesterday in the New York Times, could swing the pendulum the other way---back towards museums' argument that they are the best stewards for the world's cultural patrimony.

The Lydian Hoard, which the Metropolitan Museum's director, Philippe de Montebello, recently discussed at a New York antiquities symposium, has apparently been seen in Turkey by even fewer people than he had imagined: It's been alleged that a number of the objects repatriated in 1993, under duress, by the Met to Turkey were later stolen from the Archeological Museum in Usak and replaced with replicas. The director of the museum himself, Kazim Akbiyikoglu, is one of those detained as suspects, the Times reports.

Rightful owners are rightful owners. But it's hard to argue for the superior claims of source countries, unless they can be counted on to care for their cultural patrimony with the same diligence with which they seek its return.

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