Friday, March 13, 2009

New interview with James Cuno

James Cuno continues to air his controversial ideas with an interview with Janet Raloff for Science News ("Treaty on antiquities hinders access for museums", March 28, 2009, vol. 175, 7, p. 32). In spite of serious criticisms from a series of reviewers (see list) - see Roger Bland, Lord Renfrew, Peter Stone and me - Cuno does not seem to adapt his position.

Take, for example, his response to this question:
The [UNESCO] treaty seeks to keep wealthy nations from raiding the cultural history of poorer ones in the name of science. What’s wrong with that argument?
It perpetuates this false view or sentiment that things are appreciated better if they are encountered where they were made. But sometimes things are better appreciated if they can be compared and contrasted with similar artifacts from other cultures and geographic regions. Which argues for some sharing.
Would he argue that it was better to display the Sarpedon (Euphronios) krater in New York than in an archaeological museum in Tuscany surrounded by finds from the same Etruscan tomb? The krater could be better appreciated now if it had not been ripped from its ancient setting.

Or how about the series of Apulian pots attributed to the Darius painter that have been returned to Italy from North American collections? What other objects came from the rifled tombs?

The acquisition of recently-surfaced antiquities by museums has encouraged the continued looting of archaeological sites.

12 comments:

Lingocreative said...

I totally agree with James Cuno.

So David, if we follow your logic shouldn't the Darius pots be returned to Greece as these were Greek colonies? Or maybe we should wait for an official representative from the Etruscan government to reclaim the Sarpedon Krater, after all it's Etruscan cultural heritage, isn't it? My grandmother was from Florence. Don't I have a right to claim my heritage? Where does it stop?

They were looting antiquities in antiquity for Christ's sake! No different than prostitution or drug use: Making it off limits only heightens the allure and drives the market. When are people going to realize that?

And don't give me the pat academic answer of "context". Plenty can be learned without context, and, as I've said before, nobody is curing cancer here, so let's not overstate the importance of academic context. These objects should be displayed around the world so that people who cannot afford to go to Italy or Greece or Turkey or wherever can benefit and learn from them.

Maybe if some of these governments sold off their excess stock that is rotting away in basements all around the world they could take better care of the important pieces. And, maybe they could display them and send them on road trips so others could learn and appreciate them.

I live in a place with no museum so I make my antiquities collection available to whoever wants to view them. My kids have learned all about ancient cultures and are beginning - they're still quite young - to understand and appreciate history and art and culture. If I didn't own these artefacts they would not have that advantage.

Dig 'em up boys... I'll buy them!

David Gill said...

Dear Lingocreative

First, a minor but important point: Apulian pots ("the Darius painter") are likely to have been placed in tombs in Italy.

I will mention context. Do you value our cosmopolitan heritage? Do you want to see knowledge destroyed?

The Italian Government has been generous in its loans - and not least in the display of the Nostoi exhibition in Athens in the fall of 2008.

Thank you for your revealing response.

Best wishes
David

Lingocreative said...

David wrote: "First, a minor but important point: Apulian pots ("the Darius painter") are likely to have been placed in tombs in Italy."

But they were created by Greek colonists or craftsmen. The Darius workshop was in Tara, a Greek polis. So these were not made by Italians. Maybe Italians bought them, but the hand of the creator was Greek by nationality and blooodline. Taras was in Magna Grecia and not ruled by the present day Italian government. These were Greeks through and through. Tell me what language he used in the inscriptions on his pots and that should settle the argument. It wasn't Latin!


David wrote: "I will mention context. Do you value our cosmopolitan heritage? Do you want to see knowledge destroyed?"

No way. Not in favour of destroying knowledge. In favour of disseminating it. That's why this nationalistic rhetoric makes me so crazy. And this emphasis on context is so blown out of proportion is unreal.

So, let's look at the word cosmopolitan for a moment. Oxford defines it as "belonging, to many or all parts of the world" So, that just about makes my case for me. Thanks for the help. Nothing more needs to be said on this.


David wrote: "The Italian Government has been generous in its loans - and not least in the display of the Nostoi exhibition in Athens in the fall of 2008."

That is no doubt true, and I am not saying otherwise. But you know as well as I do that the international infrastructure to study, house and display these pieces is crumbling and so inadequate it's laughable. I am suggesting if they sold some of the "Lady of Fashion" plates stacked in the basements of museums they could afford to display and teach about these other exquisite works of art to a broader, and international, audience.

As the world moves towards integrated societies and cultures of mixed heritage, governed by international bodies with pan-national courts that can indict sitting presidents don't you think these arguments of cultural patrimony ring hollow? I sure do.

This is world heritage not Italian or Greek heritage. If these governments do not want to put the resources towards excavating and maintaining do you suggest they should be left to rot in the ground for eternity?

Nothing is black and white in this world, let's not try to make it such. Do the best you can to regulate and monitor and safeguard, but don't tell me I can't own a piece of world heritage. I can. I do. And, I will continue to do so. And then, when I'm old, the kids can pick a few pieces they want to keep and then the rest goes to the local university for their classics program. We don't get to possess these things in any real sense, we just get to have them for a little while, and then we should pass them on to future generations for their edification.

I have bought pieces with no provenance and sleep soundly every night. Again, my grandmother was from Florence. Don't I count too?

David Gill said...

Dear Lingocreative
You raise a number of issues.
a. Apulian pots were made in what is now southern Italy; they were (usually) placed in tombs in what is now southern Italy. Are you suggesting that this cultural material should not be protected because of its Greek roots?
b. I am glad you are not in favour of destroying knowledge. What are the intellectual consequences of looting, say, Apulian pottery? Or would you suggest that is more important to own an Apulian pot than to understand how it was displayed?
c. Cosmopolitan - this is our shared heritage. We are all "stakeholders". We all have a part to play in this.
d. Exhibitions of archaeological material have their part to play in education.
e. Is excavation the right solution? The Apulian pots were not "rotting" in the ground. The archaeological record is a finite resource.
f. I would not presume to tell you not to own a piece of world heritage. But I would comment on issues relating to the destruction of archaeological sites.

Best wishes
David

Paul Barford said...

“Linguocreative” (sorry, I don’t know your real name), you say you “totally agree with Cuno”. Have you read Cuno’s book? One of the points he makes is that museums are the best place for objects, whether they are looted or not, because otherwise they’d end up in private collections, which hardly suggests he would be agreeing with YOU.

The point about objects being “repatriated” is of course a wholly secondary issue to the main one which is the exploitation of archaeological sites as a source of collectables for the no-questions-asked market in contextless antiquities. I understand it may be easier for a collector to focus on the fuzzier side issues rather than the more uncomfortable central one.

While nobody would disagree that there are artifacts where collectors imagine they can say an awful lot without context (things with writing and pictures on them for example) this is not so for the vast majority of things that comprise archaeological evidence among which these collectable objects are found. Most of those artifacts however are tossed aside by the artefact hunters seeking those collectables which dealers, smugglers and collectors covet. Archaeological assemblages are literally ripped apart and destroyed to get a few saleable geegaws for you and your fellow collectors to get their thrills with. It is this finite resource of information about the past which “belongs to many or all parts of the world" which is being trashed so some collector in a museumless province can have it - he says to show it to his kids (no bookshops there either?)

don't tell me I can't own a piece of world heritage. I can. I do. And, I will continue to do so. […] I have bought pieces with no provenance and sleep soundly every night.
Nobody is saying that we cannot own bits of “world heritage” – my bookshelves are full of it. What however is under discussion is where we get it from, and what is destroyed in the process. That is what is under discussion. As David says, your reply is very “revealing” in that you show that you belong to the class of collector who don’t really care to consider that question in any wider context than their own self interest (“I want it so I’m going to have it, it’s my “right” to have it – if it’s “everybody’s”, it’s mine too”).

I see from eBay that somebody with your name has recently been buying a lot of stuff from Balkan sources. If that is you, I am surprised you can "sleep soundly" knowing that everything suggests that the people you are buying from are part of the chain which encourages (nay finances) the illegal destruction of the archaeological sites of regions like Bulgaria as a source of marketable collectables. Secondly as the finite resource is depleted, the shortfall is compensated by palming off on uninformed collectors a number of pastiche, misdescribed and outright fake objects ascribed to the same vague "provenance" - can "Lingocreative" be sure all those things are as described in those terse "seller's descriptions"? Thirdly there is ample evidence from sources on the ground that a great deal of the digging and much of the illicit movement of these collectables is in the hands of organized criminal groups for whom these "antiquities" are only part of their operation - what is the money that buyers of "Balkan" artefacts give dealers actually ultimately going to finance? I beg to suggest that the main reason someone like that could "sleep soundly at night" is because they push questions like this to the back of their mind. But that is not very enlightened behaviour I would venture to suggest.

Frankly, I think the arguments that collectors are “learning” anything much about the past, or teaching anyone anything about the past through collecting of antiquities are far too simplistic, like most of the self-justifications offered by the pro-collecting milieu.

when I'm old, the kids can pick a few pieces they want to keep and then the rest goes to the local university for their classics program. There is a fair chance that in the not too distant future the universities will not want tainted artifacts either and will be embarrassed about those they already hold. After all they do have educated and thinking people in them. Best sell them on eBay where they came from and not imagine you are doing any "good" buying objects which have been separated from any kind of information where they came from by this disreputable and destructive market. Looting matters. Geegaws are geegaws.

DR.KWAME OPOKU said...

REFUSAL OF INTELLECTUAL DIALOGUE: COMMENTS ON AN INTERVIEW WITH JAMES CUNO




Seated Person, Nok Sculpture, Nigeria. One of the three stolen items from Nigeria, now in Paris, Musée du Quai Branly, depot Louvre, Inv.no.70.1998.11, France.

The latest statements by the Director of the Art Institute of Chicago in an interview entitled “Treaty on antiquities hinders access for museums” cannot be simply ignored or dismissed (1). After all, James Cuno heads one of the leading museums in the West and is from an important city with a long established intellectual tradition, fine Law Schools and excellent faculties in the social sciences. His views should concern all of us even though his own institution, the Art Institute of Chicago has distanced itself from the views expressed in his book, Who Owns Antiquity? (2)

We have always assumed that the Western intellectual tradition is based on dialogue, between scholars and writers expressing different views and not based on a practice of repetition of mantras from a revered authority whose statements
are not subject to critical questioning because they constitute some revelation of the truth from a divine source. Cuno in his previous article had based his main argument on the tradition of the European Enlightenment. (3) One is therefore astonished to recognize again that the Director of the Art Institute of Chicago in his recent interview does not take into account the numerous criticisms that have been made recently of his views. (4)

Cuno seems to refuse to modify his views or to take into account the serious objections that have been made to his views by scholars from different continents and countries. On what intellectual tradition is the Director of the Art Institute of Chicago now relying? Certainly, he is not in the same tradition as the European Enlightenment to which he attributed “the legacy of inquiry in pursuit of truth.” Or has he found the truth already so that there is no need for inquiry and discussion? Whatever the reason for ignoring serious criticisms, Cuno is here not acting in the same tradition as Edward Said and Amartya Sen whose views he seems to respect or at any rate, likes to cite. Is that the Western
intellectual and philosophical tradition about which we have heard so much?

Apart from his refusal to enter into discussion or tolerate criticism, Cuno says certain things which are plainly wrong. In answer to the question what has been the effect of the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, 1970 on looting, this is what Cuno responds: “ It hasn’t stopped looting. In fact, from what we hear, looting is increasing. Looting is not a leisure pastime. People don’t decide to become a looter rather than being a lawyer. They are desperate people doing desperate things. In situations of a failed economy, a failed government, the absence of civil society, internecine warfare, sectarian violence, drought — whatever — conditions emerge that can create pressures for looting. Simply criminalizing the illegal acquisition of goods won’t stop looting. It hasn’t stopped the trade in drugs or trade in stolen materials of any kind.”
Every word of this statement is plainly wrong or misleading. Nobody ever said looting was a pleasure pastime. I leave it to the lawyers to study his comparing becoming a looter with becoming a lawyer. His references to failed government, failed economy, absence of civil society have not much relevance to the phenomenon of looting in several countries. Are Greece, Egypt, Italy, China, Turkey, Germany and many other countries where looting has occurred in the group he is trying to describe? Nobody believes that criminalizing certain activities like the illegal acquisition of drugs or antiquities will ever stop them. Should States for this reason not take any regulatory measures? Most people who have studied the question of looting have expressed the view that the Western museums were ultimately the main buyers of artefacts of dubious provenance. They have provided the main motivation for the plunder. This has also been the main dispute between museum directors and archaeologists.

In answer to the question whether important artefacts with doubtful provenance “for sale on the open market, available for anyone else to buy, are not available to foreign researchers”, Cuno replies: “Right. So fewer and fewer things are entering into the public domain. These export constraints are creating black markets. And like water on a leaky roof, looted artifacts are finding the path of least resistance to a buyer somewhere.” Surely this is not the whole picture. That there are still many looted artefacts in public museums and national galleries can be verified by consulting many of the websites which discuss questions of restitution and repatriation. Cuno blames export constraints for creating what he calls black markets. With this kind of reasoning, one could blame the law for most of the crimes committed in society on the ground that by trying to regulate certain behaviour and activities, the law makes them attractive and profitable. So according to this view, regulations on narcotic drugs are responsible for illegal trafficking in drugs. Should States make narcotic drugs easily available to all?
The analogy with water on a leaky roof deserves some comment. This is a masterpiece in conjuring misleading imagery and deflecting from the real nature of the illicit trade in antiquities. It creates the impression that there are some natural, physical laws that push antiquities around the world, apart from downplaying the magnitude of the problem. The complications involved in plundering sites, the destruction of important archaeological evidence, the scale of logistics involved, the vast structures involving corruption of public administration and administration of justice all disappear when our attention is deflected by analogy with water dripping down a leaky roof. What about the huge profits involved in looting and selling antiquities? The antiquities that Italy obliged leading US museums to return to Italy did not simply leak or drift to the USA.
Cuno even adds: “What I can tell you is that they’re not coming to museums in the United States and Europe [which adhere to UNESCO 1970]”. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Princeton University’s Art Museum were recently obliged to return to Italy antiquities acquired in dubious circumstances. Had these institutions been observing the 1970 UNESCO Convention? safecorner.savingantiquities.org Why did the American Association of Museum Directors have to adopt new rules on acquisition of archaeological materials as recently as 2008? www.modernghana.com
To a question about his claim that the 1970 UNESCO Treaty gives a false view of history, Cuno replies as follows:
“The preface of UNESCO 1970 implies there is no difference between the nationals of a modern state and the ancient peoples that made things that have been excavated from the soils of modern states. The argument seems to be that these people share a “collective genius”—one that might be racial or ethnic or cultural. And that the shared genius is particular to the people, both ancient and modern. But that argument was made by politicians, not by scientists”.
This is really an astonishing claim. When one looks at the preamble to the 1970 Convention which Cuno calls a preface, nothing is said there that will justify his statements. (5) Nowhere in the Preamble is there any mention or implication that “there is no difference between the nationals of a modern state and the ancient peoples that made things that have been excavated from the soils of modern states”. There is also no reference to a shared genius, “particular to the people, both ancient and modern”. Moreover, nobody has claimed that “any culture has ever been autonomous”. It is easy to set up such false contentions which nobody has made and then demolish them. The comment by Cuno led one writer to declare“anybody who knows what the 1970 Convention actually says might even be forgiven for asking whether the director of Chicago’s art institute can actually read.”(6)
To the question whether the 1970 UNESCO Convention did not seek to prevent the wealthy States from raiding the cultural history of the poor States, Cuno answers that the Convention “perpetuates this false view or sentiment that things are appreciated better if they are encountered where they were made. But sometimes things are better appreciated if they can be compared and contrasted with similar artifacts from other cultures and geographic regions. Which argues for some sharing”.
This is really a very strange argument and it would be interesting to know what the other scholars make out of this self-serving argument. How can anyone honestly argue that artefacts are better appreciated in places other that where they were made? This assumes that those who made the artefacts have no need for them. The anthropologists can explain that most artefacts have a function, historical, social or religious and that their absence, through looting for Western museums prevents those societies from following their cultural practices. Take the Benin Bronzes, for example. As the Benin Royal Family has explained several times, many of the commemorative heads recorded Benin history and their absence is therefore a gap in the archives of Benin history.(7) Would Cuno argue that these bronzes are appreciated better elsewhere than in Benin? Moreover, if one considers the violence involved in the acquisition of the Benin bronzes (8) as well as in the case of colonialist/imperialist acquisitions in Asia, such as the Chinese bronzes (9), Cuno’s comment smacks of extreme cynicism.
What should we make of this further comment by Cuno?
“Preventing the export of ancient cultural artifacts also greatly concentrates the risk to their survival. We know the damage that can be done by warfare and sectarian violence. And I don’t just mean in Baghdad and Kabul, where those museums were virtually destroyed, but also in Berlin”. Here, an insurance risk theory is advanced to justify looted artefacts. Who looked after the various artefacts until Western museums set about to acquire by all means cultural artefacts from other nations? Most cultural objects in Asia and Africa had been there for centuries before Western imperialism set in and looted most of them for London, Berlin, Chicago, New York and Amsterdam. If spreading artefacts around the world were a good insurance proposition as Cuno seems to be suggesting, why have Western States not sent some of their cultural treasures to Africa and Asia? Is this a proposition only valid for non-Western States?
Cuno reiterates his support for partage even though by all accounts, including his own statements, partage had mainly helped Western States (10): “it seems to me the only reasonable way to protect the legacy of antiquities and promote a global understanding of what they represent.” Words such as these about global understanding, tolerance etc do not ring true in the context of the various statements of Cuno. At a time when Cuno’s President, Barack Obama, is calling for dialogue with political opponents in Cuba, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, Cuno does not even want to consider the views of those who do not share his world view. If he refuses dialogue even with his colleagues from America, Africa, Europe and Asia, with whom is he seeking a global understanding? If Cuno and the Art Institute of Chicago refuse even to respond to formal demands from the Royal Family of Benin one wonders how an understanding can be reached. Clearly a person who refuses to engage in discussions of his ideas cannot pretend to seek global understanding. It seems very difficult for some to accept that we live in a world with different peoples with divergent ideas and different interests.
“Encyclopedic museums, like the British Museum or the Metropolitan Museum or the Art Institute of Chicago, serve as a force for understanding, tolerance, and the dissolution of ignorance and superstition about the world. They remind us of the connections that course through history and manifest themselves in the objects we prize for their beauty, eloquence, and fresh strangeness. They remind us that culture is always living culture, always changing the way we see the world, and always transforming us, ourselves, into the bargain.”
James Cuno (11)

Kwame Opoku, 17 March, 2009



NOTES


1. “Treaty on antiquities hinders access for museums”, in ScienceNews
www.sciencenews.org
2. K. Opoku, “The Art Institute of Chicago Distances itself from Cuno's Book.”
www.museum-security.org
3. K.Opoku,”Cuno Reiterates his Views”, www.museum-security.org
4. lootingmatters.blogspot.com
5.

Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970

Paris, 14 November 1970

The General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, meeting in Paris from 12 October to 14 November 1970, at its sixteenth session,

Recalling the importance of the provisions contained in the Declaration of the Principles of International Cultural Co-operation, adopted by the General Conference at its fourteenth session,

Considering that the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural and educational purposes increases the knowledge of the civilization of Man, enriches the cultural life of all peoples and inspires mutual respect and appreciation among nations,

Considering that cultural property constitutes one of the basic elements of civilization and national culture, and that its true value can be appreciated only in relation to the fullest possible information regarding is origin, history and traditional setting,

Considering that it is incumbent upon every State to protect the cultural property existing within its territory against the dangers of theft, clandestine excavation, and illicit export,

Considering that, to avert these dangers, it is essential for every State to become increasingly alive to the moral obligations to respect its own cultural heritage and that of all nations,

Considering that, as cultural institutions, museums, libraries and archives should ensure that their collections are built up in accordance with universally recognized moral principles,

Considering that the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property is an obstacle to that understanding between nations which it is part of UNESCO’s mission to promote by recommending to interested States, international conventions to this end,

Considering that the protection of cultural heritage can be effective only if organized both nationally and internationally among States working in close co-operation,

Considering that the UNESCO General Conference adopted a Recommendation to this effect in 1964,

Having before It further proposals on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property, a question which is on the agenda for the session as item 19,

Having decided, at its fifteenth session, that this question should be made the subject of an international convention,

Adopts this Convention on the fourteenth day of November 1970.
portal.unesco.org
6. paul-barford.blogspot.com
7. K.Opoku.”Formal Demand for the Return of Benin Bronzes, ”
www.modernghana.com
8. K, Opoku,”Nefertiti. Idia and Other African Icons in European Museums: The Thin Edge of European Morality”, www.modernghana.com
9. K. Opoku, “Is it not time to fulfil Victor Hugo’s Wish? Comments on Chinese Claim to Looted Chinese Artefacts on Sale at Christie’s,” www.afrikanet.info
Victor Hugo expressed his revulsion at this wanton looting and destruction of the Old Summer Palace, Beijing, in 1860 by the Anglo-French troops in a letter dated 25 November 1861, addressed to a Captain Butler:
"One day two bandits entered the Summer Palace. One plundered, the other burned. Victory can be a thieving woman, or so it seems. The devastation of the Summer Palace was accomplished by the two victors acting jointly. Mixed up in all this is the name of Elgin, which inevitably calls to mind the Parthenon. What was done to the Parthenon was done to the Summer Palace, more thoroughly and better, so that nothing of it should be left. All the treasures of all our cathedrals put together could not equal this formidable and splendid museum of the Orient. It contained not only masterpieces of art, but masses of jewelry. What a great exploit what a windfall! One of the two victors filled his pockets; when the other saw this he filled his coffers. And back they came to Europe, arm in arm, laughing away. Such is the story of the two bandits.
We Europeans are the civilized ones, and for us the Chinese are the barbarians. This is what civilization has done to barbarism.
Before history, one of the two bandits will be called France; the other will be called England. But I protest, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity! the crimes of those who lead are not the fault of those who are led; Governments are sometimes bandits, peoples never.
The French empire has pocketed half of this victory, and today with a kind of proprietorial naivety it displays the splendid bric-a-brac of the Summer Palace. I hope that a day will come when France, delivered and cleansed, will return this booty to despoiled China.”
." Victor Hugo. http://findarticles.com



Looting of the Old Summer Palace, Gardens of Perfect Brightness, Beijing, (Yuan Ming Yuan) by Anglo-French forces in 1860.


10. James Cuno, a vehement supporter of the partage system who has called for a return to that system, has some very interesting remarks on partage in his book Who Owns Antiquity? Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2008:

“The question then is: should the fate of the archaeological record - and of antiquities alienated from their archaeological context - remain under the jurisdiction of national governments? Is there an alternative? Yes. And it was once in place and encouraged the scientific excavation of the archaeological record and the preservation and sharing of ancient artifacts between local governments and international museums. It is called partage. Under that policy, foreign-led excavation teams provided the expertise and material means to lead excavations and in return were allowed to share the finds with the local government’s archaeological museum(s). That is how the collections of archaeological museums at the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard and Yale Universities were built; as well as important parts of the collections of the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was also how the collections in archaeological museums in Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Turkey were built. Foreign museums underwrote and led scientific excavations from which both the international archaeological and local political communities benefited. While local tensions increased over time as nationalist aspirations took hold, partage served both communities well. It was only with the flood of nationalist retentionist cultural property laws in the second half of the twentieth century that partage all but disappeared. The collections of the university museums mentioned above now could not be built, and the directors and faculty curators of those museums, many of whom are the loudest proponents of national retentionist patrimony/cultural property laws, could not teach and research as they do now. Much of their work is dependent on a policy no longer legal in the countries with jurisdiction over the archaeological materials they study.” pxxxiii (Preface).

Cuno writes further as follows:

“For many decades in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, archaeological finds were shared between the excavating party and the local, host country through partage.

This is how the great Ghandaran collection got to the Musée Guimet in Paris (shared with Afghanistan), the Assyrian collection got to the British Museum in London (shared with Iraq, before the formation of the modern, independent government of Iraq), the Lydian materials from Sardis got to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (shared with the Ottoman Empire, now Turkey), the Egyptian collection got to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, a number of collections got to the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and of course how the great collections were formed at the university archaeological museums, like the Peabody Museums at Harvard and Yale, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, and the University Museum at the University of Pennsylvania. But this principle is no longer in practice. With the surge in nationalism in the middle decades of the twentieth century, it has become almost impossible to share the archaeological finds. All such finds belong to the host nation and are its property. Only the state can authorize the removal of an archaeological artifact to another country, and it almost never does. Even when one lends antiquities abroad, it is for severely restricted periods of time.” p.14

Further in his book Cuno writes:

“The history of archaeology in Iraq has always been closely linked to the cultural and political ambitions of its governing authorities. During the late Ottoman period, Iraqi archaeology was dominated by teams of Europeans and North American excavators working on pre-Islamic sites at Babylon, Khorsabad, and Nippur. They had been drawn to the area intent on confirming the historical existence of Biblical events and places and with the view that the ancient history of what they called Mesopotamia was in fact part of the West’s subsequent Graeco-Roman and Judeo-Christian history. The term Mesopotamia itself was a classical Greek term used by Westerners to mark the lands known locally since the advent of Islam as al-‘Iraq in the north and al-Jazira in the south. Its use by Orientalists has been interpreted politically as a “reconstructive act severing ‘Mesopotamia’ from any geographical terrain in order to weave it into the Western historical narrative”: Mesopotamia as a pre-Islamic source for Western culture; Iraq as an Islamic, geographically determined - and thus limited - construction.

Under the British Mandate, from 1921 to 1932, archaeology in Iraq was dominated by British teams - including the British Museum working with the University of Pennsylvania at Ur, the fabled home not only of Sumerian kings but also the Biblical Abraham - regulated by British authorities. The Oxford-educated, English woman Gertrude Bell, who had worked for the British Intelligence in the Arab Bureau in Cairo, was appointed honorary Director of Antiquities in Iraq by the British-installed King Faysal in 1922. A most able administrator, having served as the Oriental secretary to the High Commission in Iraq after the war, Bell was responsible for approving applications for archaeologists, and thus for determining where in Iraq excavators would work. She was also a major force behind the wording and passage of the 1924 law regulating excavations in Iraq, a result of which was the founding of the Iraq Museum and the legitimization of partage:

Article 22: At the close of excavations, the Director shall chose such objects
from among those found as are in his opinion needed for scientific completeness of the Iraq Museum. After separating these objects, the Director will assign [to the excavator]… such objects as will reward him adequately aiming as far as possible at giving such a person a representative share of the whole result of excavations made by him.

Article 24: Any antiquities received by a person as his share of the proceeds of excavations under the preceding article may be exported by him and he shall be given an export permit free of charge in respect thereof”. (Cuno, pp. 54-55).

After reading these extracts from Cuno’s book, one wonders how he could even think of recommending such a system to African and Asian countries, Greece and Italy. By his own account, the system of partage was dominated by the British and the Americans who determined where excavated cultural objects should be. So why should those countries which have experienced this system want to return to it? He even urges Western archeologists to boycott “source countries” that refuse to return to the partage system. This is very interesting. If the partage system were beneficial to both sides as Cuno tries to make it appear, why is it necessary to resort to threats of boycott to persuade those countries to continue with the old system? Surely, these countries must recognize where their interests lie. Cuno thinks one must threaten them to follow the path which is clearly in their interest!

11. James Cuno, “Where do the great treasures of ancient art belong? In Western museums or in countries where the civilizations that created them once flourished?” http://press.princeton.edu/blog/2009
See also www.parthenonuk.com

Lingocreative said...

I will respond to a few of Paul's points. First, however, I will say that I generally take a strong contrary position - regardless of my own feelings on the subject - when responding to blogs in the hopes of provoking others to respond. That seems to have worked here, although my record is 42 responses, including my own replies, and I don't expect to have that kind of success here. That was on a media and ethics blog here locally. But what's the point of a blog if it's boring reading? It's much more fun to get the blood going.

Paul said: Have you read Cuno’s book?

I will admit not having read the book, just the interview that was referenced here on the site. So, I can't speak to what he says in his book, although I think I will source it now and give it a read.


Paul said: you show that you belong to the class of collector who don’t really care to consider that question in any wider context than their own self interest

No doubt I have my self interest in mind in this discussion, but let me clarify something. It's not that I don't "care" about the wider context, I just think that it's been given far too much importance. Let me say again, we are not curing cancer. We are talking about art and history not saving lives or eradicating poverty. So, I wish the people who are so dogmatic about the place of context in the world could get a little perspective.

Identifying trade patterns in ancient cultures, or techniques for applying slip to pots in the ancient world is interesting from a purely academic perspective, but those who think it is of earth-shattering importance I find to be self-indulgent. It's that academic arrogance that I find so disgusting. Mix that with politics and what a mess! If you want to talk about self-interest it's the academic silos and political personages that provide an excellent foundation for self-interest.

Even Mother Theresa had self-interest at heart in what she did, so don't give me that altruistic and pat response. It's bullshit. Forgive my vulgarity.

So, to say I don't care is not correct. To say I think it's interesting but not all that important would be closer to the truth. I like the intellectual exercise as much as anyone, but to raise it to lofty heights is ridiculous.


Paul said: somebody with your name has recently been buying a lot of stuff from Balkan sources.

I don't buy from ebay, generally, although there a few dealers that have a presence there that I have worked with. I learned the ebay lesson early on. So, I'm not sure how recently you are referring to. I have made some mistakes in that arena in the past and now avoid it for the most part. Lessons learned.

But, and this should get your blood going, I am part of a group of people that have pooled their resources to invest in antiquities and we do use that ID to sometimes make ebay purchases. So far, in our test marketing of some of the pieces we have purchased for investment purposes we have realized an average of a 230% return! But we are holding long term. That is purely for investment purposes and nothing else. And it has worked quite well. So, some of what you are referring to may have nothing to do with me directly.

For myself, I usually work offline with a few select dealers that I know, and that know me, and fill the gaps in my collection. Mostly I buy for interest and beauty reasons and for pieces that I would like to research. I've built a fairly decent library and really enjoy identifying and researching the pieces. Some I buy because they are beautiful works of art. But that's not the stuff you can get on ebay, for the most part. Although I have picked up a few interesting little pieces that way.

And let me say, a small number of nicer pieces I have purchased have been seized at the border over the past few years and investigated by the authorities. Every single one has been subsequently released because we are doing nothing wrong. There is nothing to apologize for.


Paul said: can "Lingocreative" be sure all those things are as described in those terse "seller's descriptions"?

That's easy to answer. No. But that's part of the enjoyment. Finding reference and comparables. Looking through the books. In fact, there's nothing better than correcting an attribution. Or, identifying the piece and it's purpose.

I actually look for misattributed pieces because they can provide a greater return.


Paul said: what is the money that buyers of "Balkan" artefacts give dealers actually ultimately going to finance? I beg to suggest that the main reason someone like that could "sleep soundly at night" is because they push questions like this to the back of their mind.

What they do with their money is not my concern. I can sleep soundly because it's not my business to try to control the world. Me, or the group, not buying a geegaw from a seller connected to the balkan operations is not going to stop the trade. Now, that's not head-in-the-sand thinking, so don't accuse me of it. It's a recognition of reality. It's like the war on drugs: it's a wrong-minded approach to the problem and will never succeed.

I regard the lack of regulation in the balkans to be an opportunity. That should make you aghast!

And, I sleep well because I do plenty of charity work, in kind, and make financial contributions to charities when I can. I fund a scholarship at the local university and go out of my way to help my children understand the importance of civics, about how important it is to volunteer and to make sure they are aware of how privileged they are. They're still a bit small, but are now starting to ask to donate their old toys to needy children and so forth, so it's beginning to manifest itself like I hoped.

It's because I do what I can, am a good citizen and contribute regularly that I can sleep at night. So, nothing is getting pushed to the back of my mind, I just don't think it's all that important in the grand scheme of things. Once kids in Africa stop dying from mosquito bites and kids in my hometown aren't going to school hungry, I'll reconsider. But for now, it's a concern that's very low on the totem pole.


Paul said: I think the arguments that collectors are “learning” anything much about the past, or teaching anyone anything about the past through collecting of antiquities are far too simplistic, like most of the self-justifications offered by the pro-collecting milieu.

You're right, to some extent, it is simplistic, but it's working. It's true what I say, my kids and friends have begun to consider these things and with this group we are developing a strong interest in history.

I am working towards developing an after-hours high school program to give students a chance to touch and experience the material culture first hand and hope to use that to promote classics as a viable post-secondary option for study. While we are in the very preliminary stages of this, the response has been overwhelmingly positive from educators. The goal is to promote education and create interest in history. And, if it sparks ethical discussion such as this, all the better. I'm sure they won't all agree with me, or you. And, that's a good thing.

Simplistic, maybe, effective, seemingly.


Paul said: There is a fair chance that in the not too distant future the universities will not want tainted artifacts either and will be embarrassed about those they already hold.

I've had discussions on this very subject with the university to which I intend to donate and their response to the concerns I raised, similar to what you state, are that they don't subscribe to that way of thinking. In fact, I think the Dean said to me something like: "The people that thought that way are all gone from the department now, died-off or retired, and we have a new way of thinking on this."

They have communicated to me their interest in material culture, and actually agree with me that the issue of cultural patrimony will not be able to play out to the extreme end to which it seems to some to be heading. Does China actually think it can repatriate every single artefact in the world? How ridiculous is that?

I participate in this blog to try and provide a contrary opinion to the jingoistic and self-indulgent personages out there. Also, to provoke and have a bit of fun.

I am looking forward to further discussion on this. This is actually one of the more civil blogs in terms of personalities. I like it very much.

Paul Barford said...

Lingocreative said...
I will say that I generally take a strong contrary position - regardless of my own feelings on the subject - when responding to blogs in the hopes of provoking others to respond....
The general term for that is trolling.

I will admit not having read the book ...
It’s too much trouble I guess for some of you guys before saying you “totally agree” with somebody to actually find out what they say.

It's not that I don't "care" about the wider context, I just think that it's been given far too much importance....
You may “think” that, but then from the point of view of my own discipline that wider context is of fundamental importance. If you want to talk about the importance of cancer research and saving the world in general, I suspect you really are on the wrong blog, especially if you really only want to "be provocative" and "have fun" at the blog owner's expense.

I am part of a group of people that have pooled their resources to invest in antiquities and we do use that ID to sometimes make ebay purchases.... I presume that is your “group”…. http://feedback.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewFeedback2&userid=lingocreative&ftab=AllFeedback .
Last one (an “Ali-Baba “Mummy wood Mask” [sic]”) 5th March. Nothing much here to make an “investment” in. At least three of them misdescribed – upwards not downwards. I suppose the Roman armies used the “military whistle” 200301995483 when there was a poison gas attack in no-man’s land?

As for buying items supplied as part of the operations of organized criminal groups, I find your shoulder-shrugging out of step with the other things you profess to be involved in. You write: .I regard the lack of regulation in the balkans to be an opportunity Obviously you are not the only one, http://pdc.ceu.hu/archive/00003706/ (Organized Crime in Bulgaria: Markets and Trends), odd to see you publicly announcing though you are comfortable in such company.

I've had discussions on this very subject with the university to which I intend to donate and their response to the concerns I raised, similar to what you state, are that they don't subscribe to that way of thinking...
We note you are careful not to give a single clue where this alleged hillbilly “university” with its lack of concern about acquiring looted objects actually lies. Wisconsin maybe.

David Gill said...

I have decided to reject a comment as it developed into a personal attack on one of the commentators on this posting.

Marcus Preen said...

Lingocreative, I must say I find this juxtaposition shocking and depressing (which is perhaps what you intended):

"I sleep well because I do plenty of charity work, in kind, and make financial contributions to charities when I can. I fund a scholarship at the local university and go out of my way to help my children understand the importance of civics, about how important it is to volunteer and to make sure they are aware of how privileged they are"

"Dig 'em up boys... I'll buy them!"

So you appear to strive to be a model citizen in your own country and no doubt are perceived to be exactly that at your local golf club, church or filling station yet you tell us you do things abroad which you are perfectly well aware may contribute to looting, cultural vandalism and organised crime.

I do wonder whether you have presented yourself to your local community in the terms you present yourself here - and rather doubt it. I also wonder whether, when your children grow up and learn to fully "appreciate history and art and culture" they will wonder how the old man could have slept so soundly at night. Who knows, they might even become those most naive and context-obsessed and wrong-headed of creatures, archaeologists, and visit the far-away holes that Daddy dug?

Alexander M. said...

To all concerned, a simple hypothetial query:

With all of the dizzying
debate about the collecting issue at hand, is it physically feasible to round up and confiscate antiquities in every single private or museum collection the world over,
then return them to their respective host nations ?

Is this the true goal of the laws governing the protection of cultural heritage ?

And does that include the mundane utilitarian objects plowed up in farm fields
which far outnumber true art
objects ?

How far does this go ?

Answers welcome.

David Gill said...

Alexander
Nobody is suggesting that government officials should "round up and confiscate antiquities in every single private or museum collection the world over, then return them to their respective host nations".
Best wishes
David

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