The Biblical Archaeology Society has posted a 'Statement of Concern' on 'The Publication of Unprovenanced Artifacts'. It has a list of distinguished signatories.
The first point states, 'We are strongly opposed to looting'. Good: we have some common ground. This is what Gill and Chippindale have described as 'Material Consequences'. We can discuss the role of governments - and widen it to include the professional responsibilities of archaeologists, museum curators, dealers, magazine editors, etc. In other words, the solution to looting is not just the area of concern for national governments, we have our part to play as well.
Let me for now dwell on point two of the 'Statement of Concern':
"We also recognize that artifacts ripped from their context by looters often lose much of their meaning. On the other hand, this is not always true, and even when it is, looted objects, especially inscriptions, often have much of scholarly importance to impart."Gill and Chippindale have discussed the Intellectual Consequences of looting and unprovenanced objects. Let me take one example (which I have discussed in Evangelical Quarterly 77.4 (2005): 354-58), the inscribed ivory pomegranate ‘thought to be the only relic of King Solomon's Temple’. Let me quote myself:
"The pomegranate is reported to have surfaced in ‘an Antiquities shop in the Old City of Jerusalem’ in 1979, purchased anonymously in Jerusalem, removed from the country, offered anonymously for sale, and purchased—reportedly for $500,000 in 1998—by the Israel Museum with the help of an anonymous Swiss benefactor (see conveniently Nahman Avigad, ‘The Inscribed Pomegranate from the “House of the Lord”’, in Hillel Geva (ed.), Ancient Jerusalem Revealed (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1994), 128-37)."I have rechecked the Israel Museum's website today (August 10, 2007) and this is what is said:
"Before its arrival in the Museum, the pomegranate was examined by leading epigraphists (scholars of ancient inscriptions) and deemed authentic. The recent reexamination, which used an environmental scanning electron microscope, subjected the inscription and patina to closer scrutiny than had been possible before. The new study shows that although the object itself dates to the Late Bronze Age (14th-13th century BCE), its inscription is not ancient."Let me unpack this.
a. The pomegranate was 'unprovenanced' and 'surfaced' on the market.
b. The signatories of the statement would now take this position (point 2):
"We also recognize that artifacts ripped from their context by looters often lose much of their meaning. On the other hand, this is not always true, and even when it is, looted objects, especially inscriptions, often have much of scholarly importance to impart."c. The pomegranate enters the corpus of knowledge and is accepted as "the only known relic from the First Temple in Jerusalem" (quote from The Israel Museum).
d. The signatories of the statement would no doubt maintain this position (point 4):
"It has been rightly said that the history of the ancient Near East as we know it could not have been written without the use of unprovenanced, often looted artifacts and inscriptions".e. Scientific tests suggests that the pomegranate is ancient but that the inscription was added in recent times.
f. The pomegranate cannot be used as evidence from the First Temple in Jerusalem.
g. There were Intellectual Consequences caused by the acquiring and publishing of this 'unprovenanced' artifact.
Let me close with my words from EQ:
"The pomegranate is a good reminder that forgers choose something that people want to be true, and will prove both intellectually stimulating and commercially rewarding."Have the signatories added their names to a flawed statement of concern?