Skip to main content

Who are the radical archaeologists?

A new term, ‘radical archaeologists’, appears to be emerging for those opposed to the destruction of archaeological sites by looters.

It apparently originated with the journalist Steven Vincent (since killed in Iraq) in his 2002 article 'Exposing the radical archaeologists':
'In numerous interviews with radical archaeologists, I've detected a kind of aesthetic tone-deafness'.
(The piece appeared in Orientations, 'the magazine for collectors and connoisseurs of Asian art'.)

Who is using the term now? Alan Walker (a former member of the Numismatic Department of Bank Leu AG in Zurich) in his review of Roger Atwood’s ‘Stealing History’ (2004) asserts,
‘it ought to be obvious that every time one of the radical archaeologists attacks collectors and the antiquity trade in America and in Western Europe for being the primary cause of looting, he may be sincere, but he is neither unbiased nor honest.’
Wayne Sayles of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild in his ‘Ancient Coin Collecting’ blog (‘Open Letter to CNN’, December 2006) makes a series of comments: ‘Any individual who collects such objects (what else is there?), is considered anathema by the radical archaeological element that drives media coverage today.’ He suggests that there is some sort of a lobby group: ‘Sensationalized news coverage is used as a platform from which radical archaeologists lobby legislators and government agencies for restrictions and controls that would effectively make collecting of even minor objects like coins and stamps from other countries impossible.’ Yet Sayles himself supplied the term (quoting Walker’s review) in his submission to the US Committee of Ways and Means (September 2005)

But Walker and Sayles are not the only ones. In March and April 2006 Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, responded to ‘a small group of "radical" archaeologists who say museums' acquisitions of antiquities contribute to the looting of ancient sites’ (New York Sun, April 2006; but similar quote in USA Today, March 2006).

The phrase resurfaces in the published proceedings, ‘Who Owns Objects?’ (2006), based on the Oxford seminar series of 2004. Ursula Kampmann, formerly of Münzen und Medaillen AG Basel, commented, 'The case of Switzerland shows how difficult it is to find a compromise between the unrealistic demands of radical archaeologists and the requirements of competitive profit enterprises.' The editors present Sir John Boardman's position as 'the radical archaeologists have closed down museums' opportunities to collect according to their needs'.

‘Radical Archaeologists’ is a misleading phrase. It was applied to a specific group – whose members were not engaged specifically in discussing archaeological ethics - that emerged in 1996. So an alternative needs to be found. How about ‘archaeologists with integrity’?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities” More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.