Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Kerry Speaks at Met on Looting and Iconoclasm by ISIS

Wanted to put this up quickly, and will have more to say after I get a chance to read it more carefully. But I did want to flag three things that pop out:

First, it is wonderful that ASOR and others have succeeded in getting the administration to pay attention to the cultural disaster.

Second, the conflation of looting with iconoclasm is troubling, because the two phenomena are driven by different motives and therefore require different policy responses.

Third, and related to the conflation of looting with iconoclasm, there is no mention of any policy response beyond supporting documentation and conservation efforts -- both of these being laudable and useful things to do, but quite distinct from imposing international bans on antiquities trade, or beefing up INTERPOL and customs enforcement around the world to help enforce bans already in place, or calling on countries we know are conduits or important end-markets for these antiquities to tighten up, etc. etc. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Call for Papers: U of Chicago Conference on New Approaches to the Study of Archaeological Looting an dIllicit Antiquities Trafficking

Archaeological Looting: New Approaches to an Ancient Problem
A two-day conference at the University of Chicago
27-28 February 2015
Joseph Regenstein Library, room 122

The Past for Sale: New Approaches to the Study of Archaeological Looting and the Illicit Trafficking of Antiquities is a three-year interdisciplinary project hosted by the University of Chicago. With major funding from the Neubauer Family Collegium for Culture and Society, the project brings together anthropologists, archaeologists, art historians, legal scholars, museum professionals, and social scientists in order to develop new ways of safeguarding archaeological sites, cultural heritage sites, and museums from looting and illicit collecting. Our aim is to advance both scholarly and policy goals.

Our opening conference will address the topic of new approaches to archaeological looting. The ultimate aim of The Past for Sale is to generate new policy and conservation tools for the safeguarding of cultural heritage sites, archaeological sites, and artworks and artifacts. Along the way, we seek to clarify the grounds of inquiry. This includes definitional and methodological work, as well as empirical data. We are pleased to announce that Dr. Neil Brodie, co-director of the Trafficking Culture research center at the University of Glasgow, will present the keynote address on Saturday, February 28, 2015. Dr. Brodie is an internationally respected expert on the illicit trafficking of art and antiquities.

Some of the questions on the agenda for this conference include:
  • Who loots, and why? What are the economic and social factors that incentivize
    this practice?
  • How is the illicit trafficking of art and antiquities organized?
  • What is the impact of looting on local communities? What can we learn from
    local-level efforts to stop cultural looting and trafficking?
  • What recent innovations (in policy, law, technology, advocacy, etc.) hold promise
    – or only false promise -- to curb looting?
    Papers will be allocated 20-minute presentation slots as part of panels, with half an hour at the end of each panel for discussion. It is hoped that the conference will give rise to an edited volume of essays.

    200-word abstracts, with paper title and author’s contact details, should be submitted to Fiona Rose-Greenland at fargreenland@uchicago.edu by 1 November 2014. Replies will be sent by November 21, 2014. More information about The Past for Sale is available here: http://neubauercollegium.uchicago.edu/faculty/past_for_sale/
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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Friday, September 05, 2014

Egypt to Develop "high-tech" museum and site monitoring system

Egypt announces it is developing a high-tech security system to monitor archaeological sites and museums. This is good news, though a better strategy might have been for Egypt to join forces with a number of other countries and approach MIT, Google, and other tech innovators to create next-generation monitoring designed for the special needs of protecting sites.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Is there a major antiquities collector out there willing to step up and fund these heroic efforts to save heritage?

Some young Syrians are putting their lives on the line to try to protect what they can of their country's heritage. It would be a wonderful gesture on the part of super-wealthy antiquities collectors if one or more of them seized this opportunity to demonstrate that they care about and are willing to do something about the destruction of heritage, by putting some money on the table to help these brave souls. Would the Cultural Property Research Institute, or Christies and Sotheby's, or the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art, or the American Association of Art Museum Directors, or the Getty, or intellectuals such as James Cuno and Kwame Appiah or John Merryman or Philippe de Monebello who speak for the values of collecting, or individuals such as Shelby White who have shown great generosity funding archaeological and art historical research and education, be willing to promote such an effort? Perhaps as the first recipients of an annual prize for such efforts, as has recently been suggested by Melik Kaylan (and as has long been offered, though without any money attached, by Saving Antiquities for Everyone).

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Stings, Seizures, Restitution: Are they cost-effective? And who should pay?

Thinking hard about better policymaking to protect archaeological sites requires understanding the costs associated with pursuing different policing strategies, and the benefits they yield in the form of deterring future looting. As this article indicates, the sexiest strategies -- restitution and sting operations -- can be very expensive: 
Zimmerman opines that such investigations, both immediately and long term must be very costly. There were well over 100 people involved for a week in the initial stages of the Miller case,” he noted.
Processing of such items takes time according to Zimmerman. Indeed theSalt Lake Tribunestory notes that it could take years to determine the origin of such artifacts and work with tribes on repatriation. In the meantime, such collections must be properly stored and maintained.
Northern did not provide a budget for the Miller investigation. He noted that typically the FBI doesn’t provide “dollar for dollar information about its activities.”
He did agree, however, that the work is costly.
In this (unusual) case, simply caring for the seized materials is a huge cost, on top of the investigation expense. 100 FBI agents working for a week = approximately 2 man-years of FBI salary, around $100K.
To be clear: This does not mean that such operations should never be undertaken. In fact, a certain number of these kinds of actions, as well as restitution demands against museums and dealers, are absolutely necessary in order to raise public awareness (which generates new tips that reduce the costs of future investigations, and makes potential wrongdoers think twice). But it does point to the need to think about other possibly more cost-effective uses of taxpayer money, i.e., by investing in better site protection, monitoring, park-ranger-hirings, use of volunteers, the establishment of prizes to incentivize these various efforts, etc..
Just as important, it points to the need to think about ways to find more funding to make it possible to do more of all these things. Collectors and dealers often argue that no additional laws are needed to stop looters, suggesting that countries simply need to enforce the laws they already have on the books. But enforcement costs money: site guards cost money; remote monitoring costs money; sting operations cost money. The question collectors, dealers, auction house execs, and museum directors need to be asked, then, is where the money should come from to cover these costs. 
The answer is not hard to arrive at, and it is not "from general tax revenues." Tax the trade. 

Monday, July 07, 2014

Who's Using Drones to Monitor Archaeological Sites? Looters!

An article on an excellent program, one which offers a model for how understaffed archaeological police could collaborate with concerned citizens to improve their overall capabilities for monitoring sites. 

But at the same time, the article also underlines, without saying so, the pressing need for a crash program to develop monitoring technologies -- and in particular drones -- for use by archaeological police. What prompted the volunteers to focus where they did was the discovery of "Internet footage shot by a drone-mounted camera at Folsom Lake directing looters to previously submerged artifact-rich areas."