Friday, October 30, 2009

UCL and the Incantation Bowls: Lord Renfrew comments

Earlier this week Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn was speaking in the House of Lords on the "Amendment of Treasure Act 1996" [record]. After mentioning the Sevso Treasure he turned to the UCL Incantation Bowls:
The second case to which I shall refer is as scandalous but less well known in view of intimations of libel action by the lawyers of Mr Martin Schøyen, a Norwegian shipowner. He purchased a major series of 654 Aramaic incantation bowls that had been imported into this country in the 1990s in dubious circumstances and lent them for study to a London university. When the university realised that they might be looted antiquities, it rightly set up a committee of inquiry on which I had the honour of sitting under the chairmanship of the distinguished lawyer, Mr David Freeman. We determined that they had indeed been looted from Iraq, or more precisely concluded,
“on the balance of probabilities that the bowls were removed from Iraq, and that their removal took place after 6th August 1990”,
and was therefore illegal. We recommended,
“the return of the incantation bowls to the Department of Antiquities of the State of Iraq”.
A copy of that report is in the Library of the House.

Despite that, I am sorry to say that the bowls were not returned to Iraq: they were returned to the custody of Mr Martin Schøyen. Under the new clause proposed in Amendments 70 and 68, lending and borrowing would both be dealing in terms of the Bill. It would be an offence to deal in undocumented archaeological objects in such a way—and so it should be: it is scandalous that the heritage of Iraq has been treated in this way.


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