Skip to main content

Who are the radical archaeologists?

A new term, ‘radical archaeologists’, appears to be emerging for those opposed to the destruction of archaeological sites by looters.

It apparently originated with the journalist Steven Vincent (since killed in Iraq) in his 2002 article 'Exposing the radical archaeologists':
'In numerous interviews with radical archaeologists, I've detected a kind of aesthetic tone-deafness'.
(The piece appeared in Orientations, 'the magazine for collectors and connoisseurs of Asian art'.)

Who is using the term now? Alan Walker (a former member of the Numismatic Department of Bank Leu AG in Zurich) in his review of Roger Atwood’s ‘Stealing History’ (2004) asserts,
‘it ought to be obvious that every time one of the radical archaeologists attacks collectors and the antiquity trade in America and in Western Europe for being the primary cause of looting, he may be sincere, but he is neither unbiased nor honest.’
Wayne Sayles of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild in his ‘Ancient Coin Collecting’ blog (‘Open Letter to CNN’, December 2006) makes a series of comments: ‘Any individual who collects such objects (what else is there?), is considered anathema by the radical archaeological element that drives media coverage today.’ He suggests that there is some sort of a lobby group: ‘Sensationalized news coverage is used as a platform from which radical archaeologists lobby legislators and government agencies for restrictions and controls that would effectively make collecting of even minor objects like coins and stamps from other countries impossible.’ Yet Sayles himself supplied the term (quoting Walker’s review) in his submission to the US Committee of Ways and Means (September 2005)

But Walker and Sayles are not the only ones. In March and April 2006 Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, responded to ‘a small group of "radical" archaeologists who say museums' acquisitions of antiquities contribute to the looting of ancient sites’ (New York Sun, April 2006; but similar quote in USA Today, March 2006).

The phrase resurfaces in the published proceedings, ‘Who Owns Objects?’ (2006), based on the Oxford seminar series of 2004. Ursula Kampmann, formerly of Münzen und Medaillen AG Basel, commented, 'The case of Switzerland shows how difficult it is to find a compromise between the unrealistic demands of radical archaeologists and the requirements of competitive profit enterprises.' The editors present Sir John Boardman's position as 'the radical archaeologists have closed down museums' opportunities to collect according to their needs'.

‘Radical Archaeologists’ is a misleading phrase. It was applied to a specific group – whose members were not engaged specifically in discussing archaeological ethics - that emerged in 1996. So an alternative needs to be found. How about ‘archaeologists with integrity’?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Codename: Ainsbrook

I have been watching (UK) Channel 4's Time Team this evening. The programme looked at an undisclosed field (under a potato crop) where a Viking burial had been found. The location in Yorkshire was so sensitive that it was given a codename: Ainsbrook. Here is the summary:
In late 2003 two metal detectorists were working in a field in Yorkshire. They found 'treasure' buried just beneath the surface – a collection of Viking material next to a body. Although they had been detecting on the site for a number of years, during which time they had made large numbers of finds, nothing they had uncovered previously compared with this. They decided to share their discovery with archaeologists.The programme explored the tension between metal-detectorists and the English Heritage sponsored archaeologists putting six trenches into the field based on a geo-physical survey. Finds made by the metal-detectorists did not easily map onto the archaeological features.

Part of the programme had an …

The scale of the returns to Italy

I have been busy working on an overview, "Returning Archaeological Objects to Italy". The scale of the returns to Italy from North American collections and galleries is staggering: in excess of 350 objects. This is clearly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the material that has surfaced on the market without a history that can be traced back to the period before 1970. 

I will provide more information in due course, but the researcher is a reminder that we need to take due diligence seriously when it comes to making acquisitions.

Stele returns to Greece

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has announced (Saturday 8 September 2018) that a stele that had been due to be auctioned at Sotheby's in London in June 2017 has been returned to Greece (Friday 7 September 2018). The identification had been made by Cambridge-based forensic archaeologist Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

It appeared that the stele had been supplied with a falsified history as its presence with Becchina until 1990 contradicted the published sale catalogue entry. It then moved into the hands of George Ortiz.

A year ago it was suggested that Sotheby's should contact the Greek authorities. Those negotiations appear to have concluded successfully.

The 4th century BC stele fragment, with the personal name, Hestiaios, will be displayed in the Epigraphic Museum in Athens. It appears to have come from a cemetery in Attica.