NAGPRA complaint against UMass

Gale Courey Toensing for Indian Country Today reports on a NAGPRA complaint against the University of Masachusetts:

A complaint against the University of Massachusetts Amherst, claiming violations of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act is under investigation and will be heard at a Review Committee meeting in the fall.


The complaint was filed jointly by Tribal Historic Preservation Officers Cheryl Andrews-Maltais of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, Aquinnah; John Brown III of the Narragansett Indian Tribe; and Sherry White of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians in May 2008. Andrews-Maltais has since been elected chairwoman of her tribe. . . .


The complaint says that UMass Amherst has violated NAGPRA by failing to respond to the tribes’ request for repatriation of human remains from the Connecticut River Valley that are in its possession, and failing to consult with the tribes.


The joint complaint also says the university failed to publish a complete inventory of the human remains and other items of cultural patrimony in its possession, and claims the remains from the Connecticut River Valley listed in its partial inventory are “culturally unaffiliated” even while admitting that the three tribes had a historical presence in and historical ties to the area, and that they are the only federally recognized tribes with standing to claim the remains.

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

More Thoughts on the Parthenon Marbles

“[T]he collection is a miracle”. So writes Michael Kimmelman on the opening of the New Acropolis Museum in the NY Times. He notes:




Ownership remains the main stumbling block. When Britain offered a three-month loan of the marbles to the Acropolis Museum last week on condition that Greece recognizes Britain’s ownership, Mr. Samaras swiftly countered that Britain could borrow any masterpiece it wished from Greece if it relinquished ownership of the Parthenon sculptures. But a loan was out.
Pity. Asked whether the two sides might ever negotiate a way to share the marbles, Mr. Samaras shook his head. “No Greek can sign up for that,” he said.
Elsewhere, museums have begun collaborating, pooling resources, bending old rules. The British Museum, the [Met], the Louvre and other great public collectors of antiquity have good reason to fear a slippery slope if the marbles ever do go back, never mind what the Greeks say.

Pity indeed. Lee Rosenbaum argues today that such a loan would be difficult, More daunting than logistics of shuttling this monumental work back and forth is the issue of trust: The British Museum would need ironclad assurances that once the marbles were in Athens, they would be allowed to leave when the time came for their long-term London sojourn. I keep envisioning Elgin Marble Riots, with distraught Greeks hurling themselves in the path of transport trucks.”  
However one comes down on this issue, it really is true I think that we are all the poorer for the inability of both the Greeks and the British Museum to work together, because somehow and in some form the sculptures should be viewed together, as one unified work of monumental art.

Here is David Gill’s terrific video post on the Parthenon Marbles dispute:


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

Another Suicide in the Wake of the Federal Looting Investigation

Steven Shrader, one of the 24 individuals indicted for dealing in looted antiquities killed himself Thursday night. This comes after the suicide of another man in connection with the case. The sad news should increase the criticism by two Utah senators who have asked for a Congressional investigation into the tactics used by Federal Authorities.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports:


News of a second death in the antiquities crackdown surprised southeastern Utahns . . . . “That’s tragic — if it’s the result of his concerns over his case,” said Phil Mueller, a Blanding resident and Redd family friend. “I don’t know — I don’t know [Shrader]. But to hear the news is certainly very tragic.” Mueller added that he doesn’t accept federal authorities’ explanation that they needed a show of force in the raid because they believed most of the suspects could be armed. “You could walk up to any house in San Juan County,” he said, “and they’d probably have a gun.”of a second death in the antiquities crackdown surprised southeastern Utahns, although those contacted said they had not heard of Shrader.

These suicides are certainly tragic, and though some blame may be placed on the tactics used by federal agents, the simple truth is when you violate federal law, you are running the risk of arrest and prosecution. Digging up Native American remains is not an innocent activity one accidentally does it seems to me. And as more of the search-warrant affidavits are made public, there is more and more allegations of clear wrongdoing on the part of the indicted individuals. Patty Henetz for the SLT summarizes the recent affidavit released by federal court:
On a brisk morning last September, three men — including a federal undercover operative — carried shovels and rakes to an ancient Puebloan mound on public land in San Juan County. As they piled dirt onto a blue plastic tarp, out popped a skull.

The discovery, recorded in real time and detailed in recently released federal court papers, didn’t seem to slow the men much.

Richard Bourret picked up the skull and put it back in the hole, the documents say, then he, Vern Crites and the operative, whom federal authorities call the “Source,” folded the tarp and funneled the dirt back into the hole. There wasn’t quite enough to cover the damage.

Crites lamented a lost opportunity, saying he “wished that fella had still been intact, the skeleton, I mean.”

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

Illicit Antiquities and Endangered Animals

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Peter Laufer
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I saw this interview of Peter Laufer yesterday, and it highlights the similarities between the illicit art and antiquities trade and the trade in endangered species.  Laufer here could just as easily be talking about many antiquities collectors, or as Jon Stewart calls them “supervillains”. 

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

Gerstenblith on Schultz and Barakat

Patty Gerstenblith has posted a recent article, Schultz and Barakat:  Universal Recognition of National Ownership of Antiquities, which appeared in the recent issue of Art, Antiquity and Law, Vol. 14, No. 1, Apr. 2009.  She discusses the two recent cases in the United States and United Kingdom which lay out the requirements for how courts in these two nations view national ownership declarations of art and antiquities by other nations of origin.  Here is the abstract:

Two decisions, one in the United Kingdom and one in the United States, decided just about five years apart, are significant for universalising the principle that vesting laws – laws that vest ownership of antiquities in a nation – create ownership rights that are recognized even when such antiquities are removed from their country of discovery and are traded in foreign nations. This basic principle has proven to be very controversial in the United States and has been subjected to bitter criticism; yet virtually the same legal principle, when decided in a British court, received little comment or criticism. Compounding the interest of these two decisions is that, although both decisions came to virtually the identical conclusion, they did so utilizing different methods of analysis.

Although laws regulating cultural heritage have a long history, nations have enacted national ownership laws since the nineteenth century for the dual purposes of preventing unfettered export of antiquities and of protecting archaeological sites in which antiquities are buried. When ownership of an antiquity is vested in a nation, one who removes the antiquity without permission is a thief and the antiquities are stolen property. This enables both punishment of the looter and recovery of possession of the antiquities from subsequent purchasers. By making looted antiquities unmarketable, these laws reduce their economic value. National ownership laws thereby deter the initial theft and the looting of archaeological sites that causes destruction to the historical record and inhibits our ability to reconstruct and understand the human past. While reinforcing these goals, the Schultz and Barakat decisions also bring uniformity to the national treatment of this central legal principle.

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

Hitchens on the Parthenon Marbles

A close-up of a Parthenon frieze.

Christopher Hitchens was interviewed this morning on NPR’s morning edition, arguing the Parthenon Marbles should be returned to Athens:

“If you can picture cutting the panel of the Mona Lisa in two and having half of it in Sweden and half of it in Portugal,” he says, “I think a demand would arise to have a look at what they look like if they were put together.”


Hitchens points out that other pieces of the Parthenon have been returned by the Vatican Museum, the Italian government and the University of Heidelberg in Germany. 

So far, officials at the British Museum have refused. 

According to a statement on its Web site, “The current division allows different and complementary stories to be told about the surviving sculptures, highlighting their significance for world culture and affirming the universal legacy of Ancient Greece.”

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

Backlash over Federal Arrests in the Southwest

https://i1.wp.com/www.delsjourney.com/images/news/news_02-07-01/2-3855_Butler_Wash.jpg?resize=420%2C280Brendan Borrell has an interesting piece for Scientific American following up on the number of arrests which focused on the theft of Native American objects from the four corners region, which has been described as a massive outdoor museum.  Pictured here are the Butler Wash ruins near Blanding. 

Two Utah senators, Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett have both called on Congress to investigate the actions of the federal agents surrounding the arrests, which led to one apparent suicide, the raid of one home for 10 hours, involving 300 agents and a SWAT team. 

One of those arrested, Brent Bullock tells Scientific American, “I’m guilty of arrowhead collecting, as is two-thirds of this town.”  It seems he:

[T]ried to sell a blanket fragment, fireboard, and stone hoe known as a Tchamahia. In a phone interview, he said that, like Lacy, he was also asked to identify the spot where the items were obtained and he subsequently signed a Letter of Provenance.  He says agents later showed up at his house, placed his arrowheads and other artifacts in bags, and photographed them although they did not have permission to seize his or any other artifacts yet. “They ripped this place apart,” he says. “This town is all stirred up.”

Criminal penalties may help to ease the taking of objects from these sites, but they also create a great deal of anger and resentment.  I think rather than just focusing on the arrests and the backlash, we should also pay attention to much of the education and outreach being conducted.  Were all of these individuals really hardened criminals, bent on destroying archaeological heritage to sell antiquities?  I’m sure some may have been, but the investigation seems to be failing spectacularly at convincing at least some local residents the importance of heritage preservation.  What will happen when the attention of federal authorities goes elsewhere?  Criminal penalties are important, and certainly justified in many cases.  But I would like the attention being paid to this controversy to focus on some practical initiatives that can do a lot of good before looting and destruction take place.  Take a few examples such as:  volunteer programs, initiatives such as the Comb Ridge project, and continued recruitment of site stewards
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

More on the Picasso Sketchbook Theft

The director of the Picasso Museum in Paris, Anne Baldassari has asked thieves to return the sketchbook stolen last week.  Though initial reports indicated the display case was unlocked, it seems special tools were used to remove the book from the locked case.  She tells Farah Nayeri of Bloomberg, “It’s an interesting notebook from a scholarly standpoint, as documentation . . . .  On the market, it’s worth nothing, especially since it was stolen.”  She noted that the book may be broken up, “The only people interested in this sketchbook are major museums: We recently bought a sketchbook ourselves, to prevent it from being destroyed and dismembered . . . .  It allows us to preserve all evidence of the work of Picasso.”

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

More on the Parthenon Marbles

Det nye AkropolismuseumWith the opening of the Parthenon Museum coming soon, there was bound to be a great deal of discussion of the proper place for the sculptures, which always seems to return to the question of whether Lord Elgin’s taking of the sculptures 200 years ago was rightful, wrongful, illegal, unethical, or a combination of the above.  Part of this has taken the form of a back and forth over whether some kind of loan arrangement could be arranged between the Greeks and the British Museum.  The Guardian reports that the dispute has “indirectly dragged in the Queen, the Greek-born Duke of Edinburgh, and Gordon Brown.”  It also quotes Antonis Samaras, who rejected the very tentative loan proposals because they would somehow legitimize Elgin’s taking of the marbles. That is unfortunate I think, because focusing on the circumstances surrounding the taking are almost certainly going to prevent any kind of resolution to the dispute.

Three months won’t be enough to take them out of their boxes . . . .  As a time frame, it’s bizarre. And agreeing to the condition [of ownership] would be like sanctifying Elgin’s deeds and legitimising the theft of the marbles and the break-up of the monument 207 years ago. No Greek government could accept that.  For the first time, they are opening a window. They see they have to do something, now that the new museum is here.

Hannah Boulton, the British Museum spokeswoman clarified her earlie comments and responded to Samaras saying “It’s not the case that an offer to lend the Parthenon Sculptures was specifically made … It is clear from Mr Samaras’s statement that he does not recognise the British Museum’s legal ownership of the sculptures in our collection, which makes any meaningful discussion on loans virtually impossible.”

I inadvertently caused a minor stir among some commenters earlier this week, including Kwame Opoku when I argued that Greece has no tenable legal claim to the marbles.  By that I mean, if Greece were to bring suit againt the British Museum, its trustees, or even the Government, it would have absolutely no chance of succeeding in court, because far too much time has elapsed, and it is not clear I don’t think that the taking of the marbles was illegal under early 19th century legal principles.  I do not think any court would recognize the takign of the objects as theft, nor am I aware of any international agreements that would consider the removal of the sculptures as theft.  If they were taken today, sure, of course they would be theft because they would be owned by the Greek government; but that was not the legal situation 200 years ago.  As Damjan Krsmanovic points out at the Assemblage, such an examination leads to one obvious conclusion—that the ethics of the time were wrongheaded when viewed from today’s perspective, but that merely critcizing those actions does not get us any closer to where the marbles belong now. 

[I]n order to remove the marbles, Elgin needed to obtain a firman (a permit) from the Ottoman authority, which permitted him to remove any sculptures, inscriptions and the like as he saw fit. Because of the unwieldy size of some pieces, a number were sawn into sections for easier transportation. The use of contemporary ethics, which are a product of a particular context and time, is merely going to result in a biased perspective that nullifies the Ottoman law and Elgin’s actions, which are a product of a different social, cultural, and political context.

 We are left with a very heated, very emotional argument which seems unlikely to be resolved so long as both teh Greeks and the British Museum insist on a kind of public battle for popular opinion.  I think—and perhaps it is naive—that a better solution could be reached far sooner by a collaborative relationship, in which some or all of the marbles or even some other objects of antiquity are shared back and forth among the two nations. 
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com