Saturday, January 26, 2008

Lord Renfrew on "Dodgy Dealers"

Lord Renfrew has been lecturing in Scotland as part of the Tercentenary Celebrations of the Society of Antiquaries (Susan Mansfield, "Cemetery looting robs archaeologists of DNA link to past", The Scotsman, January 26, 2008). As part of the lecture he turned to the problem of looting and the way that it destroys knowledge.
"It's a colossal problem. It's destroying the record of the past. It's got much worse over the past 30 years, so the opportunity of getting really good data about the past is being very substantially damaged or reduced."

Looting has increased, he says, largely because of the "rapacious" demands of collectors in the West. Ancient sites are excavated clandestinely and their contents removed, so the chance for archaeologists to study and document them is lost for ever.

"For example, we get a lot of information from cemeteries. But if a looter has gone in and dug up half the graves, you've not going to get that information about the entire community. Now there are very few ancient cemeteries that
continue undisturbed."
Renfrew then turned to the people he felt were responsible:
He criticises museums and collectors in the United States, Japan and Russia for buying antiquities from "dodgy dealers" without checking their provenance.

"They are completely thwarting the good ambition of better understanding the human past. They are actually financing the looting. They know the antiquities they are buying are likely to be looted."
Now we are seeing returns of antiquities to Italy and Greece from public institutions, private collectors and dealers will we see a change in selling and collecting habits in the antiquities market? It would be good to think so.

But only last week I noted these words from one prominent dealer in antiquities who commented on the return of antiquities from Shelby White (Shelby White: "positive for the future of collecting antiquities"):
Overall, this is positive for the future of collecting antiquities and for the future of a trade that's crucial to America's culture ... Collectors in antiquities should be conducting more due diligence than in the past.
There is a long way to go.

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