Thursday, 15 January 2015

Condemning "monsters": Yates on the trade in archaeological material

Dr Donna Yates (University of Glasgow) has been interviewed by Chris Havergal for the Times Higher ('Cultural Guardian', THE 15 January 2015, 42-45). The interview starts with her experience of looting at Mayan sites. She explains her role, 'piercing together smuggling networks or studying legal mechanisms for preventing looting'.

She reflects on the impact on local communities:
It's a situation in which extremely rich and wealthy white people take complete advantage of people who can't fight back, and then blame them for it. I see it as double victimisation - these people are not only having their property taken from them, they are having their ability to construct their own identities taken from them by people who have all this power, who don't even consider it to be a problem.
She also talks about museums:
She says some museums have done "horrible" things and has little sympathy for institutions that are not honest about their past and the provenance of their artefacts.
The interview also reflects on Yates' research:
[the] project seeks to understand the relationships between communities, governments, the law and international criminal markets, with the aim of developing regulatory mechanisms for controlling the illicit antiquities trade. 
Those involved in dealing with archaeological material will be concerned to read that her focus is on 'eliminating the markets for looted archaeological treasures'. She would also like to see more people 'being jailed for committing this sort of crime'. (It is not clear if she means looters, dealers or collectors.)

She sees a role for the general public:
And she believes that society at large can play a role, too, by not accepting the illicit collecting of antiquities as something that just happens, but by condemning those who deal and collect such items as "monsters".
This interview helps to remind the archaeological and museological communities why "looting matters" both in terms of the impact on unexcavated remains as well as the corruption of knowledge as objects with lost contexts enter the corpus.

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