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You are here: Home > Suggested readings > Renfrew - Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership - ISBN 0715630342 - 3.5/5

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Published on 2018-04-26 09:53:44 | words: 680


Renfrew, Colin
Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership: The Ethical Crisis in Archaeology (Duckworth Debates in Archaeology)
BookID 112794730
ISBN 0715630342
(see LibraryThing.com card)
Description (from Amazon)Colin Renfrew argues that what is most precious in archaeology is the information that excavations can shed on our human past. Yet the clandestine and unpublished digging of archaeological sites for gain - looting - is destroying the context in which archaeological findings can be understood, as well as sabotaging the most valuable information. It is the source of most of the antiquities that appear on the art market today - unprovenanced antiquities, the product of illicit traffic financed, knowingly or not by the collectors and museums that buy them on a no-questions-asked basis. This trade has turned London as well as other international centres into a 'thieves kitchen' where greed triumphs over serious appreciation of the past. Unless a solution is found to this ethical crisis in archaeology, Renfrew argues that our record of the past will be vastly diminished, and his book lays bare the misunderstanding and hypocrisy that underlies that crisis.
My review: 3.5/5Any social unrest or social crisis has a physical effect on cultural heritage- pillaging, destruction, outright theft.

Few months ago, I reviewed a recent Italian book on the pillaging of cultural heritage in the Middle East (Brusasco "Tesori rubati. Il saccheggio del patrimonio artistico nel Medio Oriente" http://www.librarything.com/work/14955320/book/108508842).

As a new war in the Middle East is unfolding, with activities echoing those carried out by the Talibans in Afghanistan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhas_of_Bamiyan vs. http://rt.com/news/190728-isis-destroys-church-mosque-iraq/), it is better to remind that there are actually legal tools that the "civilized world" should embrace, instead of just lecturing other countries, legal tools that require that the "demand side" takes action.

Wars since the 1980s seem to be inclined toward the "cultural genocide", the rationale being that if you level cultural heritage, there is no way back from what you are "offering" as an alternative.

I would not be surprised if even the ISIS in Syria/Iraq, as media-savvy as the Taliban (both probably updating lessons from the Vietcong on how to use media), were to destroy large, visible historical buildings, but smuggle and sell abroad smaller findings, to finance their own "holy war".

For every piece of art smuggled outside a country by warrying factions, there has to be a buyer and a network of dealers, traders, etc- in our "civilized" countries.

This short book takes a more "technical" view about the issues involved, including an interesting detailed analysis of a specific case of smuggling (i.e. showing who was involved where- from source site to end buyer), and contains as appendices the full text of a list of international conventions and resolutions (from UNESCO to Unidroit, to the Code of Professional Ethics of the International Council of Museums).

This book is over a decade older than Brusasco's book, but if you read first the most recent one, you can see how many international agreements are sidelined when convenient.

It would be interesting to see, for once, that bombing in a "just war" is coupled with thinking about the future- including by closing the doors to smuggling of cultural heritage, by checking on the dealers and buyers (private or public), and not just the sources.

As a country needs its own cultural heritage as a point of reference while (re)building its own future- as the reconstruction of Germany (e.g. Koeln Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cologne_Cathedral) after WWII.
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