Monday, March 31, 2008

Custody battle rages over ancient artifacts

Along with Italy, the governments of Greece, Guatemala, El Salvador, Peru, Turkey, China, and Cambodia, among others, have pushed to reclaim prized artifacts from collections around the world. They have tightened their laws governing the export of antiquities or intensified the enforcement of existing laws and international agreements; they have made impassioned public cases on the world stage.

These governments argue that to allow such objects to remain abroad as trophies only encourages the continued pillage of their national patrimony. Their position has won broad moral support and increasingly become the norm among academic archaeologists, who see ancient objects as historic artifacts inseparable from their place of discovery.

It has forced major concessions from great museums around the world, including the MFA, the J. Paul Getty Museum, in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City. The British Museum is under persistent pressure to return the Elgin Marbles, its famous set of sculptures from the Parthenon.

But as one museum after another negotiates deals, and prosecutors all over the world target the commercial trade in ancient objects, some prominent scholars are drawing a line in the sand, saying that objects belong where they are — that the movement is based on a false reading of history, and, if allowed to progress, could do serious damage to the world’s cultural inheritance.

See the above page for the full story.

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