Tuesday 24 June 2014

Out of the fire and into the frying pan?

In a post bizarrely entitled "Better Burned then Smuggled?" (I suspect the word he is looking for is "than", not "then"), Peter Tompa has slammed "UNESCO and the Iraqi cultural bureaucracy" for complaining that rare Iraqi manuscripts have been stolen from libraries in Mosul and smuggled into Turkey. He naively seems to think that stealing the manuscripts was a good thing as they will now be safe.

I rather doubt that either UNESCO or Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage would want the manuscripts to be endangered by immediately returning them to a location under threat and let's be clear: the act of looters stealing them was unlikely to be an altruistic rescue operation. They are probably being smuggled into Turkey to be sold on the black market, where they are very likely to be broken up (disbound and covers discarded) both to avoid detection and because flogging individual leaves fetches a higher price than the whole. If Tompa innocently believes the rare manuscripts will remain intact - or that even bits of them will ever see Iraq again - he doesn't know the darker side of the antiquarian book trade very well.

The manuscripts have escaped the vague risk of being burned into the near certainty of being mutilated beyond recognition. Are the authorities really wrong to be concerned?


A priceless comment below the post also caught my attention. An English detectorist uses the occasion to have a go at Paul Barford ...
"With people being slaughtered on an industrial scale in Syria thousands made homeless refugees, and with increasingly savage and vile atrocities reported on every news bulletin, what does Barford see as the pressing issue to complain about in Syria? Antiquities."
In his frenzy to attack the archaeologist, the detectorist appears to have missed the title of Paul's blog: "Portable ANTIQUITY Collecting ..." Just a wild guess ... and I may be going out on a limb here ... but perhaps the blog is likely to be about antiquities? Dunno, just a thought ...


Paul Barford said...

Yes, I think harnessing two metal detectorist BFFs to the lobbying efforts of the Professional (sic) Numismatists Guild and the International Association of Professional (sic) Numismatists shows the depths to which these two "professional" organizations will go in their lobbying efforts to discredit calls to respect international norms. Pathetic.

Thanks for the link to the broken book, that was really shocking, and wholly analogous to artefact hunters who unthinkingly dismantle archaeological site assemblages in the same way to flog off a few pieces as tangible "illustrations" which "bring history to life", leaving trashed and basically useless remains of the original whole as the legacy of their selfish actions.

David Knell said...

Peter Tompa is a lawyer and professional lobbyist. It blows my mind that he seriously thinks partnering with two ridiculous clowns (and even linking to their slapstick blog at the bottom of every page) will enhance the calibre of his cause. What on earth is he thinking?

If I were a coin dealer or collector, I'd be squirming in embarrassment and distancing myself from Tompa's blog and his choice of sidekicks faster than a greased denarius.

Bookbreaking is indeed shocking. As a teenager, I remember looking at leaves being sold individually and dreaming that I could buy every one so I could put the poor thing back together again. In hindsight, I now realise of course that that would only encourage the practice but it is heartbreaking. And yes, the analogy to dismantling archaeological site assemblages is strong. A few of the bits and pieces are still around but they have now been demoted to mere pretty baubles and both they and the larger whole they came from have forever been robbed of their deeper meaning.



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