Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Cuno and Renfrew on recently-surfaced antiquities

James Cuno and Lord Renfrew discussed the issue of recently surfaced antiquities on the BBC's flagship Today news programme. They were interviewed by Sarah Montague who brought a crispness to the proceedings.

Cuno stressed the ownership of the world's ancient past and returned to his oft-quoted theme that there was no direct link between antiquity and modern nation states.

Renfrew agreed that antiquity belongs to us all, but reminded the listeners that this shared ownership also brings responsibilities. He then changed the direction of the interview towards the issue of looting: "The great problem at present is the destruction of the record of the past through looting." He suggested that museums and private collectors should not be free to buy recently-surfaced antiquities.

While Cuno accepted the issue of looting, Renfrew criticised Cuno for not using the 1970 UNESCO Convention as a benchmark. Cuno responded that he did not accept 1970 as a "legal" date and placed his emphasis on national laws. Montague was quick to remind Cuno that from 1970 museums should have been aware of the ethical issues.

Renfrew dismissed Cuno's position: "It isn't good enough". He then emphasised that museums should only acquire objects that were "Safely out of the ground before 1970".

The discussion was firm and polite - and for once Cuno was firmly on the defensive.

Match to Renfrew.

© David Gill.

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