Skip to main content

Animal rights and archaeologists: a strange comparison?

There is clearly a link being made between animal rights and the discussion over the looting of archaeological sites.

In July 1990 the 'Cycladic and Classical Antiquities from the Erlenmeyer Collection: the Property of The Erlenmeyer Stiftung (A Foundation for Animal Welfare)' were auctioned at Sotheby's in London. The sale catalogue gave details of the projects assisted by the Foundation. They included helping to 'finance the "Save the Elephant" campaign of WWF'. It is perhaps ironic that money raised from antiquities looted from archaeological sites in the Greek islands, including the infamous Keros haul, should help to preserve African elephants from being blasted away by poachers seeking to provide the market with ivory tusks.

Talking of shotguns, take a thought for the wildlife of Texas. Carlos Pícon (now of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) recently described his relationship with the collector Gilbert Denman during his time at the San Antonio Museum of Art. The New Yorker reported, 'Pícon learned to shoot, in order to participate in weekend house parties dedicated to boar-hunting, a pastime that is to Texas billionaries what golf is to those in the Northeast'.

Pícon was asked to comment on the 'suggestion that the collecting of antiquities will eventually earn the same degree of opprobrium that the wearing of fur has acquired in some quarters'. He 'lifted a derisive brow. "I don't have a fur coat, but I would like to have one".'

Protecting endangered animals and supporting animal rights can, perhaps, be similar to protecting an endangered archaeological resource or supporting the rights of national governments to reclaim and protect their cultural property. The suggestion that the naming of a museum gallery in honour of collectors could be compared with the renaming of an African game reserve to celebrate with poacher with the largest 'bag' is not lightly made. (See K. Taylor, "Shelby White in Center Court at the Met." The New York Sun May 1, 2007.)

But the language is getting stronger. The Oxford-based academic Sir John Boardman spoke out on the issue in a 2006 interview for Apollo. (The text of the interview, 'A Classical Warrior', can be located conveniently on the website of Phoenix Ancient Art.)

'Now I find I need to speak out against a highly politicised lobby of archaeologists who are, I think, responsible for what amounts to a witch-hunt of those who disagree with them, especially collectors, but with severe implications also for museums. They put one in mind sometimes of the more fanatical animal-rights activists'.

Do we accuse those who wish to put an end to the slaughter of elephants as fanatics? Do we dismiss then as activists?

Of course not.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

Mithras relief from Tor Cervara

A fragmentary relief of Mithras was discovered in 1964 at Tor Cervara on the outskirts of Rome. It was acquired by the Museo Nazionale Romano.

A further fragment of the relief was acquired by the Badisches Landesmueum in Kalrsruhe in 1976. The source was an unstated Swiss dealer. This fragment has been reunited with the rest of the relief [press release].

Today a further fragment of the relief was reunited with the other pieces. This had been recovered during a raid in Sardinia.