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Academics and recently surfaced antiquities

One of the discussions at yesterday's conference at the Law School at Queen Mary's related to academics working on recently surfaced antiquities. Reference was made to the "incantation" bowls that were the subject of a study at UCL and comments by Lord Renfrew in the House of Lords. A parallel was made with the papyri that are currently the subject of research at Oxford.

One solution is that UK universities need to adopt a more rigorous ethical review of research projects that involve handling potentially looted material.

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kyri said…
"One solution is that UK universities need to adopt a more rigorous ethical review of research projects that involve handling potentially looted material"
hi david,the word "potentially"is the key word hear.what you are advocating is "a censorship of scholarship itself"[sir john boardman]which is one step away from burning books.
David Gill said…
No. I am suggesting that there is a rigorous review if there is a potential problem. A research ethics committee is able to look at the issues for the research project.
kyri said…
hi david,potential problem?loss of scholarly work is the potential problem for boardman says "our museums are full of objects that speak for themselves without knowledge of their full or even any provenance"the loss of any object to scholarly work is the real crime and is "a measure of censorship"in itself,however you want to dress it.
David Gill said…
My paper on the material and intellectual consequences of collecting the Sarpedon krater demonstrates the massive loss of knowledge when Athenian pots are looted ... And the weaknesses in Boardman's assertions,
kyri said…
hi david,yes the sarpedon krater is a good example of the loss of knowledge,but it works both ways.boardmans use of the celtic gundestrup cauldron,which has context that tells us very little of how or when it was made or even when it got to be in that danish bog.
of course a piece with context is thousand times better than a piece with no context but we cant consign "orphaned" pieces as you like to call them to the rubbish bin because of the lack of context.every antiquitie in my eyes is unique and has something to tell us with or without context.
David Gill said…
Can I point you to A. Bergquist and Tim Taylor's excellent article on the Gundestrup Bowl in Anatiquity?
Bergquist, A. K., and T. F. Taylor, "The origin of the Gundestrup Cauldron," Antiquity, vol. 61, 1987, pp. 10-24.

Back to the post ... How should academics respond to looting? What is an ethical response to research on looted antiquities?
kyri said…
Hi david im out now and on my phone .thanks for the link ill enjoy reading that tomorrow.a tricky question but these pieces exist wether we like it or not .should we just ignore them or even worse destroy them because they are looted like they do with ivory of course not .yes académics should be %100against looting but as academics they also have a duty to preserve and expand knowledge so in a nutshell i have no problem with researching looted pieces if we can gain knowledge.
Sorry for any typos fat fingers and small phones dont mix well
David Gill said…
Thank you for joining this debate. I am not advocating the destruction of the objects - just to make that point crystal clear.

But say these papyri have been looted, should they be returned to Egypt?
kyri said…
Anything found to be looted should be returned but sometimes we wont even know where to return them to for example .there are many attic vases found in italy .the crux of the matter for me is not where these pieces are returned to but that if they are not researched we will lose knowledge.can we really choose what to research and what to ignore.our museums are stufed with pieces with no provenance at all but they have all had something to say .
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I do not want to join this debate among specialists but I suggest that it is time Western scholars abandoned the position that knowledge in itself is so important that however an object was obtained, they would examine it for the knowledge that it may provide. Considering all that we know about looting and the looted artefacts in Western museum, most of them obtained through war and oppression, I believe that one should take a principled position of not accepting or working on any object known to have been looted or acquired through violence. One could return the object to the country of origin. If there is interest in researching on the particular object, the authorities there could be contacted. One cannot condemn the use of violence in the acquisition of artefacts and still work on objects that have been so acquired. Scholars must finally take a stand on whether knowledge is so important that it overrides the interest of mankind in the observance of laws and morality. Is knowledge obtained by studying artefacts more important than human lives?

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