Saturday, January 7, 2012

AIA Award: Does Looting Matter?

Photo: © Neil Salter
AIA Outstanding Public Service Award

AIA President, AIA Members, I am immensely grateful to receive this award with its emphasis on public service. Archaeology is not a private discipline, it is carried out in the public arena. And archaeologists seek to serve by valuing our shared—dare I use the word cosmopolitan?—cultural heritage whether it lies stratified and as yet unexcavated, or if it is on display in the great public—should that be encyclopedic?—museums around the world.

I can place the origins of my research to a post-lunch conversation in the rooms of the then reviews editor of Antiquity in King’s College, Cambridge. My co-researcher, Christopher Chippindale, and I were looking at images of recently surfaced Gandharan antiquities that had been photographed in St James’ Park in London. We were outraged, our attention turned to the intellectual consequences of looting, and we started work on our paper on Cycladic figures published by the American Journal of Archaeology.

Last year I moved from Swansea University to be professor of archaeological heritage at University Campus Suffolk. So will you permit me to make three very short points based on those initials?

U-Universal. The on-going fall-out from the Medici Conspiracy has shown the weaknesses of acquisition policies by so-called universal museums. Yet why has a major North American museum failed to co-operate with the Hellenic Republic of Greece over recently acquired objects identified by photographic evidence in its collection? Why has another major civic museum displayed an archaic krater that appears to come from Koreschnica in FYROM?

C-Compliance. Recent sales by a New York auction house and a New York antiquities gallery appear to have included material featured in several of the photographic archives seized by police from dealers in Switzerland and Greece. Why have the sales continued? Will dealers develop a more rigorous due diligence search prior to sales?

S-Suffolk. A set of Roman bronzes were removed from the site of Icklingham in Suffolk, to the north of where I now live. They were acquired by a major New York private collector, and subsequently included in an exhibition at Harvard. The collector has returned material to Greece and to Italy, as well as indirectly to Turkey through the good offices of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Will the present proprietor of the Icklingham bronzes, who claims to have an interest in archaeology, return them for display in their county museum?

As I close, I need to thank a small group of people: my co-researchers in particular Christopher Chippindale and Christos Tsirogiannis; my Swansea colleague Christopher Hall who drew my attention to the potential of Web 2.0; and my wife Caroline who has supported my work for over a quarter of a century.

Does Looting Matter? Yes, as it threatens the finite archaeological record, and it undermines our ability to interpret the past.


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1 comment:

M C Beaudry said...

Neil,

Heartfelt congratulations on your well-deserved award and many thanks for the good work you do through multiple media.

Mary Beaudry, Chair
Department of Archaeology
Boston University

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