More on Antiquities Thefts

Last week was a bad week for antiquities protection, as thefts of antiquities from both Montreal and Olympia in Greece were revealed. It reminds us that antiquities are vulnerable in archaeology, but also when they are displayed in museums, just as works of art are.

Both instances are troubling examples of thieves overcoming museum security. But, to borrow a phrase from Prof. Merryman, no thinking person would use these thefts to argue that (1) Western museums should repatriate all their antiquities; or (2) Greece should sell its “surplus” antiquities to alleviate its culture funding difficulty. Both propositions are wrongheaded. They are a reason why cultural heritage policy has such difficulty getting off the ground, if the discourse can’t even acknowledge and admonish thieves as thieves.

With respect to the Olympia thefts, there is not much to report since last Friday’s theft. Channel 4 has a short video report showing the interior of the museum and images of the kinds of objects which were stolen. Dick Ellis, who formed the Art and Antiques Squad (and also lectures in ARCA’s Summer Program in Amelia) is quoted in the piece. He notes that

 It has become an organised crime business the incentive is there to make money in Greece. . . . And they may well begin a life which sees them travel from the poorer hands of the lowly thieves who broke into the museum to reach the lucrative shores of London or New York, and in some cases, find themselves auctioned off for tens of millions of dollars. . . . I am sure the current economic situation is Greece is triggering people to become more active, . . . I would expect these objects are going to get moved. It’s a transitional country for other stolen goods, and they can go west or east.

The Channel 4 Video:

 

  1. Armed robbers loot ancient Greek museum – Channel 4 News, (2012), http://www.channel4.com/news/armed-robbers-loot-ancient-greek-museum (last visited Feb 20, 2012).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

3 thoughts on “More on Antiquities Thefts”

  1. One of Greece’s major papers has acknowledged the need for new approaches. Why can’t the archaeological community? This should be a wake up call, but all we get is more of the same. One can only assume it is because that archaeologists are too attached to the status quo. Many Western museums use deaccessions quite successfully. Why not the Greek museums that alreay have more than they can take care of?

  2. Which Western museums deaccession their antiquities? They get roundly criticized for it if and when they even consider it. This was a theft. Every nation has fallen victim to art theft. Should we sell objects from rare document libraries because Barry Landau stole objects? I just don’t think this is a tenable position.

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