Skip to main content

"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?

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.