Friday, 17 August 2007

"Due-diligence procedures are not enough to satisfy them"

John H. Merryman (in Kate Fitz Gibbon [ed.], Who Owns the Past? [2005]; the original publication of the essay was in 2004) has recently turned his attention to "The Archaeologists' Crusade". In particular he observed:
"Archaeologists have intensified the antiquities problem by demanding that museums, collectors, and the art market acquire only properly documented objects. Elaborate due-diligence procedures are not enough to satisfy them. These Crusaders presume that an antiquity that is not fully and properly documented is illicit: guilty, in other words, until proved innocent" (p. 278).
So which museum provides the model for "due-diligence procedures"?

The J. Paul Getty Museum.

And the curator cited (p. 287 n. 11) is Dr Marion True.

Merryman continues:
"At a private international conference held at the [Getty] museum in 1989, archaeologists attacked the Getty procedure as disingenuous. They insisted that an antiquity that was not fully and properly documented be treated as illicit. Eventually the museum, for institutional reasons, adopted that position, and a number of other museums in Europe and the United States have followed suit".
But wait a minute.

So this "due-diligence procedure" allowed the Getty Museum to acquire the Fleischman collection - and part of it is now about to be returned to Italy. (See my earlier comments.)

If the Getty affair has taught us anything, it is that archaeologists were right to be sceptical about the "due-diligence procedures".

But what about the accusation that undocumented antiquities are considered to be "illicit" - or to use Merryman's word, "guilty". Christopher Chippindale and I had pointed to "problems" with the Fleischman collection before the returns were announced. There were few recorded find-spots, and few histories that could be traced to the period before 1973. (See my earlier comments.)

History now teaches us that lack of documentation for these Fleischman antiquities was indeed significant: indeed significant enough for the Getty to hand the objects back to Italy.

Does Merryman need to revise his now flawed position?

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