Book Thief Sentence Reduced

The BBC has a report on the successful appeal by Farhad Hakimzadeh, convicted in January of 14 counts of theft.  The Appeal Court has reduced his sentence from two years to 12 months, apparently because of the man’s age and the fact that his crimes did little permanent damage:

Mr Justice Blake, giving the court’s judgement, said: “This was not a case of someone stealing to improve his library then preventing scholars from accessing those books in the future. All the books have been recovered and so have the pages. 

“He has suffered a considerable humiliation and loss of reputation at the age of 61 years.”
The decision means that Hakimzadeh, having served 104 days, will be released in 78 days time. 

A spokesman for the British Library said: “When Hakimzadeh damaged and stole pages from Library items he abused the trust that we extend to all researchers using our collections. 

“We have zero tolerance of anyone who harms our collections and will pursue anyone who threatens them with utmost vigour.” 

The spokesman added that the Library will “continue to pursue a number of routes with the aim of achieving redress for the damage he caused.”

 

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

The Challenge of UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Simon Usborne has an extended piece for the Telegraph examining the difficult task UNESCO has in selecting and preserving heritage sites. A number of pressures make this a difficult task, from too many visitors to looting to environmental or other factors. Pictured here is Monte Albán near Oaxaca, Mexico. The site is reportedly under threat as its carvings are exposed to the elements, it has been looted, and a nearby fire damaged it in 2006. The site is a World Heritage Site, which brings visitors and attention, but not perhaps enough resources for protection, preservation or crowd management.

One difficulty is the huge number of sites the agency is responsible for:

Unesco insists all its sites adhere to strict rules about management and planning, but could it be that the task facing the organisation – effectively to protect the planet – has become so daunting as to be impossible? If it has, the man in charge must have one of the toughest jobs in the world. Speaking from his Paris office, Francesco Bandarin admits it’s a tall order. “Sometimes you feel it’s impossible to control everything, especially when you look at our founding principles,” he says. “Our list is growing and the number of requests is growing, and it seems like the more work you do the more you get. It’s a very big job – too big.”
Bandarin suggests a solution would be to maintain a central committee, but to break some of the bureaucracy by handing partial autonomy to an “effective network of heritage institutes”. Unesco has launched a review of its practises and Bandarin expects big changes by 2012, when World Heritage turns 40. “It’s the only way we can cope with the crazy volume of work,” he says.
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Iraq Troops Recover Antiquities

From Bloomberg:

Iraqi commandos smashed a smuggling ring, recovering 235 looted Babylonian and Sumerian artifacts that they turned over to the Tourism and Antiquities Ministry. 
The soldiers arrested a gang of seven thieves who were preparing to smuggle the objects outside of Iraq, according to a statement e-mailed today by the U.S. military in Baghdad. They were tipped off by residents in the southern Iraqi towns of Abu al-Kahsib, Bab al-Tawael and al-Amir. 
Among the artifacts presented to the ministry in a ceremony this week were gold jewelry, ceramics and stone figurines, the military said. They weren’t marked with museum serial numbers, suggesting they were illegally dug up from one of Iraq’s estimated 40,000 archeological sites. 
“The Iraqi Army is putting extraordinary pressure on smuggling gangs that steal Iraq’s history to finance terrorist operations,” Defense Minister Abd al-Qadir said in the statement. “The recovery of the artifacts was a joyous occasion because they could not be replaced with money and represented 5,000 years of Iraqi history.”
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

"Appropriating the Past: the uses and abuses of cultural heritage"

To inaugurate the new Durham University Centre for the Ethics of Cultural Heritage, there will be a “multi-disciplinary conference” to be held at Durham University, UK from the 6th-8th of July.  Here is the description:

This two-day conference should be of wide appeal to archaeologists, anthropologists, philosophers, lawyers and others with an interest in the ethical principles and problems associated with the concept of cultural heritage.  The meeting will open with four invited lectures to introduce the conference theme and relate it to the specific aims and methods of the new Centre.   

In recent years, the right of archaeologists to erect ‘Keep Out’ signs around what they conceive of as the archaeological record has come under increasing challenge from other interest groups which may assert equal or superior rights to access, utilise and manage those remains, or to determine their significance.  So a decorated bronze vessel which for an archaeologist is primarily a source of information to be extracted by academically approved methods may be, to other eyes, a sacred or tabooed object, an anchor of social or cultural identity, a work of art, or a legitimate source of hard cash.  These different perceptions correspond to different forms of appropriating the past, and they can give rise to sharp practical conflicts.    

This conference will explore some of the key ethical issues raised by the competing modes in which archaeologists and others appropriate the past.  These include: rights to interpret the past and tell stories about it; handling the sacred; the concept and ethics of birthright; local versus national versus international rights over sites, antiquities and artefacts; roles and responsibilities of museums; duties/rights of international intervention to defend antiquities; study and custodianship of human remains; looting and the antiquities trade; the economic exploitation of sites and resources; duties of preservation for future generations; the use of destructive research techniques; the roles of codes of ethics and of legal frameworks.

Keynote Speakers 

Professor James O. Young (Philosophy, University of Victoria, Canada)
Professor Robert Layton (Anthropology, Durham University, UK)
Dr John Curtis OBE (Keeper, Dept. of Middle East, British Museum, UK)

Ms Janet Ulph (Law, Durham University, UK).

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Hugh Eakin Sums up Cuno’s Recent Writings

In the upcoming issue of the New York Review of Books Hugh Eakin discusses the recent work of Jame Cuno.  As Eakin makes clear, a number of Cuno’s arguments are controversial, perhaps even wrong-headed.  But we should still grapple with many of the arguments, including:

Cuno’s Manichaean view of cultural property—with national laws facing off against cosmopolitan museums—draws on several sources. From the Stanford legal scholar John Henry Merryman he appropriates the idea that archaeological countries tend to be “retentionist”—they aim to retain antiquities within their borders—whereas art-market countries like the United States are “internationalist”—supporting maximum dispersal. He also cites the work of the philosopher K. Anthony Appiah, whose recent book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006) makes a forceful ethical argument for gathering together the art of different cultures in world museums, so that it can be more widely studied and enjoyed. A third influence comes from various studies of nationalism, including The Myth of Nations (2002), Patrick J. Geary’s eviscerating account of the pseudohistorical claims on which national identities in many European countries are based.

At the heart of Cuno’s analysis, however, are some broad assumptions about Western museums and their relation to the nations from whose territory their collections are formed. Taken together, they form an underlying story that goes something like this:

In the modern era, the discovery and circulation of antiquities have been guided by the rise of large collecting museums, on the one hand, and the emergence of nation-states, on the other. The idea of the museum as repository of world heritage can be traced to the eighteenth-century Enlightenment; the idea of modern nation-states as defined by self-identifying populations in particular territories derives largely from the spread of nationalism in the nineteenth century.

Through the early twentieth century, these two developments were able to coexist to mutual benefit: Western museums were given permits to engage in archaeology in the new nation-states of the Mediterranean and the Middle East; in return, governments in those countries often stipulated a division of finds, known as partage. As a result, the museums made pioneering discoveries and amassed stupendous holdings from around the world; while archaeological countries established important collections of antiquities found in their own territory.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Cleveland Museum of Art Returns 14 Objects to Italy

Today the Cleveland Museum of Art will hand over 14 looted works of art to Italy, including this Donkey-Head Rhyton, (c. 475 BC).  Steven Litt has an account for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. These works were likely looted between 1975 and 1996, and were the subject of an agreement reached last November.  In exchange for the return, Italy will lend 13 other objects of comparable quality for renewable 25-year periods. 

Timothy Rub, the CMA Director says in Litt’s piece that the agreement was “open and fair and equitable to all parties. I was pleased then, and still am, that we reached a conclusion that was just that . . .  My focus going forward, and the principal point of contact with the Italian government, has been on what we intend to do in the future . . .  We have some work to do in terms of finalizing requests to a number of museums with the blessing and concurrence of the [Italian] cultural ministry.”

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

"What fools the curator also fools the collector"

[image]Charles Stanish, Anthropology professor at UCLA makes some great arguments in the May/June issue of Archaeology magazine about the intersection of eBay and antiquities manufacturing. The piece, “Forging Ahead: Or how I learned to stop worrying and love eBay” argues the popular auction site is not as big a problem for the looting of ancient sites as many of us might believe. Instead, a number of forgeries have begun to flood the market. It is a terrific, and frightening article. It echoes an argument I’ve been trying to make in recent months: that the lack of transparency in the antiquities trade is defrauding our cultural heritage. Without an accurate and impartial accounting of an object’s history, how can we know for sure if an object is forged?

Pictured here is an image from the piece of a forged Moche portrait vessel. What about other potentially forged antiquities? Stanish argues in the piece:

The wealthier collector who up to now has been laughing about the naive folks who buy on eBay is in for a surprise, too: those dealers that provide private sales are some of the forgers’ best customers, knowingly or otherwise. In fact, the workshops reserve their “finest” pieces for collectors using the same backdoor channels as before, but now with a much higher profit margin because they are selling fakes. As a former curator myself, I know that an embarrassingly high percentage of objects in our museums are forgeries. What fools the curator also fools the collector.
From the professional’s point of view, there are really three kinds of “antiquities” on eBay. About 30 percent are obvious fakes or tourist art that can be detected by looking at the pictures, even the fuzzy ones. These are easy to pick out because they are not intentional reproductions, but simple pieces manufactured for tourists and sold as such. The creators of these pieces mix up iconography and choose colors and shapes for visual effect. Such objects are clearly not ancient. Another five percent or so are probably real, while the rest are in the ambiguous category of “I would have to hold it in my hand to be able to make an informed decision.” This latter category has grown fast.

This isn’t an isolated problem. Consider the Getty Kouros, the Bolton forgers, and the others we do not yet know about.

One intriguing idea which struck me as I read the piece is how perhaps the demand for antiquities can be appropriately shifted to purchasing modern recreations. Rather than insist on buying an authentic “antiquity” a better model perhaps would be if buyers purchase modern recreations—which might be considered unique works of art in their own right. Many of these forgeries are similar in many respects to the “real” thing. As Stanish argues “I know . . . of one fellow who makes grass-tempered reproductions of a 2,000-year-old pottery style. Having worked on archaeological projects for years, he learned to get the grass for his fakes from ancient middens near his house. If fired properly, and if the organic residue in one of his pots were carbon dated, it would appear to be a very old piece indeed.”

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com