Saturday, February 23, 2008

Who Owns History?
I'm betting now it will be a long time before a U.S. museum director buys another ancient treasure with a wink and a nod or anything less than a documented-ownership trail longer than an Old Testament genealogy and much more credible. But the givebacks of recent years are just part of an accelerating worldwide struggle over the past. It has complications brought to the table by archaeologists, who say any commercial market for antiquities is an incentive to looters who plunder archaeological sites. And then there's the ordinary museumgoer, who has a crucial stake--being able to see the widest spectrum of culture that humankind has produced. Among all these bristling claimants to the past, is it possible to strike a balance between protecting history and unfolding it, between safeguarding it and making it available for our own pleasure and instruction?

Long article and worth reading through. It doesn't say anything particularly new to readers of this blog, but it brings up a couple of items, such as the idea of reviving what is termed "partage" where the host country splits any recovered items with the excavators. This is what happened in Egypt; the Ottomans had first pick and the archaeologists got whatever was left. I don't recall for how long this operated in Egypt or where else it worked, but it's one thing that makes it difficult for modern countries to claim certain items were "stolen".

I tend to like the idea of having the stuff spread out as much as possible, if only to avoid complete destruction when things eventually go south in whatever country. We saw in Afghanistan and Iraq what can happen to antiquities.

Also in Time, a short article on the Ark.