Thursday 26 September 2013

Still waiting ...

Paul Barford has recently mentioned my draft proposal for an International Antiquities Registry (IAR). As he points out, it has now been over four years since I made the proposal. It was quite widely publicised at the time but there was no response from the antiquities trade.

To pre-empt a possible objection, I should point out that the scheme was never intended to satisfy (or replace) the demand for a cut-off date based on the UNESCO Convention 1970, the year accepted by most museums and archaeological organisations as the date beyond which no antiquity should be acquired without an Export Licence from the country in which the antiquity was found. Neither is the scheme intended as a carte blanche amnesty.

The scheme is designed as a goodwill gesture that will accomplish three objectives ...

  1. Being able to distinguish between artefacts that have been circulating for years and those that have been freshly dug up
  2. Diminishing the destruction caused by ongoing looting by being able to avoid making any contribution to it
  3. Public Relations: dealers and collectors would be seen to be actively doing their part to preserve the archaeological heritage – a far better image than the current one of being perceived by many as selfishly contributing to its destruction

In other words, the scheme is a start in the right direction. And who knows what the situation will be in twenty or thirty years time? Certainly, an artefact that has been conscientiously recorded in the database is likely to be far better regarded than one whose owner didn't bother and left it without any demonstrable collecting history at all.

But the response from the antiquities trade (both auction houses and dealers) has so far been unanimous in one respect: the silence is deafening. I summed up three consequences of that cavalier attitude. It might be worth pondering them - particularly my third point. Time is running out.

Monday 16 September 2013

Antiquities Collectors - An Endangered Species?

Dorothy King has examined an apparent dearth of antiquities collectors - or at least those who are willing to come forward - in the modern world: "In Search of the Modern Antiquities Collector".

Perhaps it is high time for a truce between those preservationists who want to protect the archaeological record and those collectors who also fully endorse that view. Not ALL collectors are thoughtless and unethical. Many of them are deeply passionate about history and collect old objects as an emotively physical and intellectual way of engaging with it, while fully recognising the vital importance of the archaeological record and scrupulously shunning any acquisition or action that may damage it. Tarring ALL collectors with the same brush - stereotyping them to the lowest common denominator - and demonising them will only serve to alienate or even decimate a section of the population that traditionally has been one of the greatest supports for museums and archaeological research.

Get the message about preserving the archaeological record across by all means but let's bear in mind that a thoughtful and ethical collector can be an ally, not an enemy.



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