Jessica Owley of SUNY Buffalo has posted a piece examining the use of conservation easements in the context of Cultural Heritage Protection. From the abstract:
Conservation easements are quickly becoming a favored tool for protection of cultural heritage. Perpetual encumbrances on the use of private land, most cultural heritage conservation easements are held by private conservation organizations known as land trusts. With minimal public oversight, land trusts decide which lands to protect in perpetuity and what the rules regarding use of those lands should be. A variety of concerns arise when protection of cultural heritage resides with private organizations. First, as governments abdicate cultural heritage protection to private organizations, the public’s role in site protection shifts. When private organizations and landowners negotiate which properties to protect and how to protect them, some culturally important sites go unprotected. Privatizing protection of cultural sites may reduce the ability of some members of the public to become involved in the decision of what to protect as well as hamper public oversight and enforcement of land-use restrictions. It may even reduce overall protection as public entities remove themselves from the cultural heritage protection game, ceding the territory to land trusts. Second, private perpetual restrictions problematize the balance between intergenerational rights and present responsibilities. Reverence of past cultural events and properties may hamper future growth as users of conservation easements restrict properties in perpetuity without enabling communities to revisit or modify the restrictions. Third, conservation easements may be protecting sites that were not in danger of exploitation. In such cases, conservation easements subsidize landowners with questionable public benefits. Finally, using conservation easements to protect sacred sites commoditizes cultural heritage. Paying people to protect cultural heritage could degrade cultural heritage or civic responsibility.
“A human life doesn’t have much value without culture to go with it” says Markus Hilgert, director of the Pergamon Museum. He’s interviewed in a CNN profile of Heritage for Peace, a group working to document the destruction taking place there. The group walks a delicate line, trying not to take a stand in the dispute. The group has limited funding and works with a number of volunteers with founder Isber Sabrine:
A 29-year-old archaeologist from a village near the Mediterranean coast in western Syria, Sabrine is using modern technology to trace and document the looting and destruction of his country’s ancient heritage.
Working from Berlin, he runs a network in Syria of around 150 volunteers — archaeologists, architects, students and simply concerned citizens — who often pose as antiquities buyers to see what has been stolen in the course of Syria’s now more than four-year uprising. He communicates with them via Skype when the Internet in Syria is working, which isn’t often.
“They go to the locals and they say look, we are interested. They cannot buy, but at least they make photos and they send us photos,” says Sabrine. “Like this we have a list of looted materials from Syria.”
That list is shared with law enforcement, auction houses and collectors. CNN asked if we could publish some of those photographs — we saw statues, mosaics and coins — but Sabrine declined for fear the photos might expose the volunteers.
After years of chaos, the market for stolen antiquities is flooded, and dealers are holding back some of their most valuable items. “We know that the most important objects don’t go to market now,” says Sabrine. “The big dealers are waiting, maybe two, three or four years, and then when the opportunity is right, they will sell.”
Christa Roodt, of the University of Glasgow and the University of South Africa, and Bernadine Benson, of the University of South Africa have an article in the June issue of the South Africa Crime Quarterly examining databases for stolen art with a particular emphasis on the South African position post-Apartheid. They make a good common-sense argument in favor of a centralised database for South Africa which would assist both the market and law enforcement. Here’s the abstract:
Addressing the illicit trade in stolen works of art and other heritage items is notoriously difficult. Before thefts of heritage items can be recorded, the object in question must be identified as having special significance. The investigation of the circumstances in which such an object was acquired and the enforcement of legal and ethical standards of acquisition become unduly complicated in the absence of a comprehensive national inventory of museum holdings and of a database of stolen art and cultural objects. This article considers the development of inventories and databases in South Africa and elsewhere. We argue that cross-sectoral cooperation in sharing databases needs to improve significantly in order to boost compliance with due diligence standards. To help restore the credibility of the trade in art and cultural objects, the South African Heritage Resources Information System site must be endorsed as the centralised database for heritage crime. This would provide ready access to databases, helping art market participants, law enforcement officers and customs officials in the investigation of stolen art works.