Does Energy Trump Heritage in the Four Corners

Kirk Johnson of the New York Times has an excellent article about a disheartening subject: the threat energy projects pose to Native American heritage in the West. Its a familiar story: not enough funding for surveys and archaeological research, pressures from development and expanding populations, plus the problem of illegal looting.

Above is a picture from the piece, of Chimney Rock Archaeological Area. Federal land managers are forced to make difficult judgment calls, considering using portions of funds for energy development to help safeguard and protect sites.

As the piece notes, “A spokesman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents drilling companies, described helping defend historical sites as good for business, especially if financing volunteers created more contact and understanding between local residents and energy explorers.”

That seems like a big lump to swallow and a dangerous compromise of heritage values. I’m highly skeptical of this kind of give and take, though perhaps some with more understanding of specific cases might offer some kind of hope for this kind of compromise. Consider that “[t]he Forest Service, for example, using research at Chimney Rock that suggests the place was chosen by the Anasazi at least partly for its vantage point of the San Juan Mountains and river valley below, recently decided that a big natural gas drilling project just a mile or so away must not be visible from the rock.” Wow, one would have thought that would have been a no-brainer.

Also at risk is the 2,000 year-old rock art in Nine Mile Canyon (previously discussed here); in Montana, a coal-fired power plant has been proposed near “one of the last wild sections of the Lewis and Clark trail”; and in New Mexico a uranium mine has been proposed on a national forest site sacred to Native American tribes.

It’s a disheartening story, which indicates I think how much more effort and advocacy is needed. Strict criminal penalties are in place for looting of sites, and there are even nimble civil fines which can quickly punish looters. But heritage policy does not start and stop with looting, it also requires funding, and good policy solutions. Sadly many of those appear to be lacking in the American West, despite some notable heroic eforts

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More on the Caravaggio Theft in Odessa

Takingofchrist_1There are more reports now on the theft of Taking of Christ or the Kiss of Judas attributed to Caravaggio. It was stolen from the Museum of Western and Eastern Art in Odessa, Ukraine. Reportedly, the stolen work looks very similar to this work, also called The Taking of Christ which is on display in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.

There had been questions about the authenticity of the stolen work. It seems Soviet experts in the 1950s confirmed the works authenticity, and it was restored in 2006. I’m completely unaware of the Soviet art-authentication track-record, but there at least seems to be some suspicion that these authenticators may have gotten it wrong, especially given some of the Soviet practices just a few years earlier in World War II. Perhaps an art historian knows whether Caravaggio might paint the same work twice? One could be a study or earlier version perhaps.

Lyudmila Saulenko, the museum’s deputy director is quoted as saying:

“We came in here to find that the wind was blowing the blinds around through a window with no pane, … And where the painting had hung we just saw its stretcher. The painting had been removed from its frame…. Thefts, of course, do occur in great museums like the Hermitage (in St Petersburg) or the Louvre (in Paris),… But the answer is to put in a truly effective alarm system and not postpone this.”

It certainly appears as if the window was not terribly difficult to remove, and not a hard night’s work given the reported $100 million USD value placed on the work, though that’s a very speculative number, and the thieves certainly won’t get more than a fraction of that kind of money I would imagine.

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