The US goes to great lengths to work with (and dare I say placate) the governments around the world in the protection of cultural patrimony. We have very close working relationships with the governments of Peru, Egypt, Greece, Italy, China, Ecuador, Turkey, et al in the enforcement and repatriation of items of cultural patrimony. Having been personally visited by our US Customs Department, I can tell you, they take this work very seriously and do not take kindly to American citizens smuggling items into the country – and rightfully so. I have seen photos of many important archaeological sites around the world that have been ransacked by looters. The value of the education and actual artifacts that are destroyed by these common criminals is astronomical. I have seen photos from Peru of huaqueros playing with human skulls in their search for loot, and destroying pieces of lesser interest to get at “the good stuff.” I believe all of us agree this cannot and should not be tolerated.
But what about the material that is repatriated, or the items of lesser value currently stored in these countries? I know archaeologists who have had the pleasure of visiting Italian storehouses where Greek Attic and Apulian pottery is stacked almost like kindling, with decorations that are eroding due to lack of proper care. I have heard stories of Egyptian storage basements with completely inadequate humidity control where wooden objects rot or are consumed by rodents. I have been to museums in Lima where the curators complain there is so much material they cannot possibly properly store or care for it all. Is it really better to send all of this material back to countries who clearly cannot properly care for it?
Friday, December 10, 2010
Mr. Hawass, what are you doing with all the sarcophagi?
Artemis Gallery (Bob Dodge)