Showing results 1 - 12 of 35 for the month of March, 2006.

March 30, 2006

The intersection of antiquities & politics

Posted at 12:55 pm in Similar cases

In 2004, US prosecutors seized a 2500 year of artefact of Iranian origin, believed to have been trafficked.
Since then, due to the US’s deteriorating relations with Iran, the piece has been stored in a warehouse rather than being returned to its rightful owners.
Beyond this point, the case gets somewhat complex & confusing – the end result possibly being that this & other artefacts belonging to Iran may be sold off to provide compensation money for victims of a crime completely unrelated to these artefacts.

New York Times

Antiquities and Politics Intersect in a Lawsuit
Published: March 29, 2006

INCREASINGLY, the world of antiquities and museums has become a politically charged one, with museums acknowledging that art that was found to be looted must be returned. But when the objects come from a country that is viewed as an enemy rather than an ally, the arena of antiquities takes a different twist. Consider the fate of some artifacts from Iran.

In 2004, federal prosecutors in New York seized a 2,500-year-old silver ceremonial drinking vessel of Iranian origin. Because imports from Iran are severely restricted, a dealer had listed the object on import papers as coming from Syria and sold it to a collector for $950,000.
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A paradox of protection of cultural property

Posted at 12:52 pm in Similar cases

Most of what we hear about cultural property involves its removal from the ground (or from its original location). In some cases though, is burying cultural treasures to protect them the best option? This was the move taken in 1998 to conceal some the site where a Native American skeleton had been discovered. Since then though, scientists have won the right to further investigate the site, going against the wishes of the local Indians.
Recently (in the last 150 years) taken artefacts belonging to indigenous people have been some of the first pieces to be legally repatriated at the wishes of the tribes that they came from, but to what extent should their wishes be regarded as overriding any other requests – such as those from archaeologists, scientists etc?

New York Times

Protection for Indian Patrimony That Leads to a Paradox
Published: March 29, 2006

IN April 1998, the Army Corps of Engineers dumped 600 tons of boulders and dirt over an area near the Columbia River in Washington where, two years earlier, the oldest known skeleton in North America — dubbed Kennewick Man — had been found.

If there were other 9,200-year-old bones under the rubble, if there were any other artifacts that might have given clues about events in North America millenniums before written history could provide an account, now they would be safely interred.
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Tackling the looted antiquities problem

Posted at 12:46 pm in Similar cases

As part of a supplement on museums, the New York Times had a group discussion with various key figures in the art / museum industry about the issues surrounding looted artefacts in museums. Predictably there were a range of opinions on the subject, ranging from those who see it as a problem that should be dealt with to those who push the issue that many looted artefacts would have ended up destroyed or hidden in private collections if museums had not purchased them.

New York Times

Is It All Loot? Tackling The Antiquities Problem
Published: March 29, 2006

On March 6, at the New School in New York, Michael Kimmelman, The Times’s chief art critic, moderated a discussion about antiquities and their provenance. He opened by delving into the topic of the Euphronios krater, a 2,500-year-old Greek bowl that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has recently agreed to return to Italy. Here are excerpts, edited for clarity, from the conversation.

MICHAEL KIMMELMAN: Questions about whether the Euphronios krater was looted are nothing new.

PHILIPPE DE MONTEBELLO [(director and chief executive of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)]: Documents emerged out of the criminal trial against the Getty Museum. How Italy prosecuted its case in the United States is rather shabby. It was entirely through the press. For years, we wrote countless times to the Italian ministry, to the justice department there and so forth, asking for a direct dialogue and really never got it. I went with our secretary and counsel Sharon Cott in 1999 and it led to nothing. I was there in 2003 to discuss the whole issue of the silver that the archaeologist Malcolm Bell said, on circumstantial evidence, came from Morgantina in Sicily, asking whether they had any hard information. I got blank stares.
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New paradigms in antiquity ownership & display

Posted at 12:36 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

I have often argued that the British Museum needs to see beyond its current mode of existence – to innovate & lead a new movement forward in the same way as it was once at the forefront of the creation of museums during the Enlightenment.
This article looks at the way that the display of artefacts is argued over between museologists & archaeologists – generally with little consultation with the source country from where the exhibit originated. It the goes on to look at some museums that have looked at alternative ways of creating a collection to the methods generally employed by the great national museum of the western world.

New York Times

Who owns art?
Published: March 29, 2006

KARMA never sleeps. When people steal from other people, redress always comes, though maybe not for a long time and in unexpected forms. Because the history of art is, in large part, a history of theft, karmic action is always at work. Somewhere, it’s always payback time.

We got a juicy taste of this recently, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art, after decades of stonewalling, agreed to return several possibly stolen — that is, illegally excavated — objects to Italy, one being the famous Euphronios krater. Yet the Met affair was small potatoes compared with orgies of art larceny in the not-so-distant past.
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March 29, 2006

British Museum trustee speaks about the return of Aboriginal artefacts

Posted at 12:56 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

One of the British Museum’s trustees, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC speaks about the decision by the museum to return two packages of cremation ashes in their collections to the Tasmanian Aboriginal community.
Not only is Helena Kennedy a trustee, but as a member of the House of Lords, she was also amongst those involved in the formation of the law that led to the return of these artefacts. The problem though is the same as I discussed previously – that bones & stones are treated differently (in the right circumstances this approach is entirely valid) – so that while it is perfectly acceptable to return human remains, these should be seen as a specific special case & no other artefacts should be treated in a similar way.

The Guardian

Knowledge or humanity
British Museum trustees’ decision to return human remains to Tasmania was harder than we expected
Helena Kennedy
Tuesday March 28, 2006
The Guardian

Two bundles held by the British Museum, made of kangaroo skin and closed by a drawstring, are unremarkable, but contain human ash gathered from a cremation fire by Tasmanian Aboriginals in about 1830. They are extremely rare physical traces of a population nearly exterminated during European settlement in the 19th century. This genocide, in which the indigenous people were shot for sport by farmers, was one of the most shameful episodes in British colonial history. The last full-blood Tasmanian Aboriginal died in 1888, but the original population continues to exist in the form of Tasmanians of mixed Aboriginal and European descent. And it is their representative body, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, that has asked for the return of their ancestors’ ashes.
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More on the return of Tasmanian indigenous remains from Britain

Posted at 12:41 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Following the announcement that a number of museums in the UK are to return Aboriginal artefacts to Australia, the Australian Indigenous Affairs minister has highlighted the work by Hobart Aboriginal Leader Rodney Dillon in securing the return of these artefacts.

The Mercury (Tasmania, Australia)

UK deal on more remains

A TASMANIAN Aborigine has won praise for his part in an historic agreement to return indigenous remains to Australia.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough singled out Hobart’s Rodney Dillon as he announced the agreement with British museums that should lead to remains being returned within six months.
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More Aboriginal remains to return

Posted at 12:34 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Following the decision by the British Museum on the return of Aboriginal remains to Tasmania, it now appears that agreements have been reached in principle for a far greater number of Aboriginal artefacts to be returned from museums in Britain including Exeter, Bristol, Manchester, Tyne-and-Wear & the British Museum.

Sydney Morning Herald

Indigenous remains to come home from UK
March 28, 2006 – 4:40PM

The remains of indigenous Australians held in six British museums, often for 100 years and more, are to be returned home within months.

They will be repatriated under an historic agreement between Britain and Australia, Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough said.
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March 28, 2006

Provenance of artefacts requires deep scrutiny

Posted at 12:55 pm in Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

At the root of many restitution cases are the ethics of the museums – they provide a justification for why they should be the ones exhibiting those artefacts, but in reality, how much weight should these manufactured arguments carry?

Yale Daily News (USA)

Published Monday, March 27, 2006
Provenance of artifacts requires deep scrutiny

In 1799, British nobleman Thomas Bruce became ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. As part of his diplomatic duties, Bruce, also known as the Earl of Elgin, made a visit to the Parthenon in Greece, then under Ottoman control. The trip must have made one heck of an impression, because in 1806 Bruce ordered that the Parthenon’s marble friezes be stripped from the ancient temple and shipped back to England, where they remain to this day, on display in the British Museum.
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Neil MacGregor on restitution claims

Posted at 12:37 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum speaks about (amongst other things) restitution claims. The problem is though, that he still pursues his narrow view of a universal museum – a concept that he relates to the Enlightenment. The problem is that this is not he only way that a museum can exist, but just one of many possible routes to the formation of a museum. Since the Enlightenment, the world has evolved – you no longer need months to reach other parts of the world, but instead can be almost anywhere in 24 hours. Through television, anyone can see objects in their original context, learning more about them that they would from seeing them in a vast room. For some things, the universal museum approach may be the best option – the problem is that this is an approach that appears to be applied equally to all artefacts, regardless of where they were originally, the stories about them, what they were once part of & how they were acquired.
Many aspects of the museums work are admirable, but should it just continue to grow for ever stuffing more & more objects into its collections despite only have the facilities to properly display a tiny percentage of what it already has?

Financial Times

The museum as global mediator
By Peter Aspden
Published: March 27 2006 18:08 | Last updated: March 27 2006 18:20

The exquisite exhibition of drawings by Michelangelo that has just opened at the British Museum is something of a rarity for the institution these days: quiet, intimate, inward-looking – and having no comment to make whatsoever about the current state of the world.

That contrasts sharply with recent shows that, it seems, have gone out of their way to announce their contemporary resonance: last year’s exhibition on ancient Persia, which only went ahead at the last minute following a special meeting of the Iranian Council of Ministers to decide whether to co-operate with a politically antagonistic country; an exhibition on Sudan, which happened to run at the same time as the genocide in Darfur; last week’s opening of a show of museum highlights in Beijing, arguably the most culturally curious spot on the planet.
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March 26, 2006

The British Museum’s statement regarding Aboriginal returns

Posted at 12:43 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

The British Museum has published on their website, a press release detailing key points regarding their decision to return packages of cremation ashes to the Tasmanian Aboriginal community.
One key aspect of this press release is the fact that the museum felt that it was relevant to point out that this case has absolutely no connection to that of the Elgin Marbles. To anyone who looked into the details of the Human Tissue act, it would be clear that the Elgin Marbles are well outside the scope of this law, due not only to the fact that they could not possibly be classified as human remains, but also because they are far older than the 200 years allowed by the Act.
During the original parliamentary debates on the act, it was argued that it was important to insert these limitations. It seems that here, the British Museum is keen to remind people of the fact that these limitations exist. Interestingly, at the time of the Feldmann case, little attempt was made to stop the press confusing the two.
It seems clear that the British Museum is very definite in their opinion that stones are to be treated differently to bones – Whilst the return of human remains is worthwhile, return of other artefacts should be treated completely differently & does not hold the same level of moral obligation.

The British Museum

For immediate release Friday 24th March 2006
British Museum decides to return two Tasmanian cremation ash bundles

The passing of the Human Tissue Act in 2005 enabled the Trustees of the British Museum and other national museums to transfer human remains out of their collections.

The Museum’s Trustees had long recognised that human remains from the modern period represent a special case raising particularly difficult issues. The Museum was therefore fully and positively engaged with the process which led to the drafting of the relevant clause of the new law.
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More on the return of Tasmanian cremation ashes

Posted at 12:31 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Some additional articles on the British Museum’s decision to return some Aboriginal remains to Tasmania. Of particular interest are some of the details of the reasons for the return – it was realised that the significance of the remains to the Tasmanian Aboriginal community outweighed any public benefit of their continued retention in London. Furthermore, the items had already been studied, analysed & recorded & it was unlikely that their retention would yield any further significant information.
The British Museum has agreed to consider other requests for the return of Aboriginal remains on a case by case basis as they occur. This suggests that they are arguing against their own floodgates argument regarding the Elgin Marbles. It has long been insisted that each case involving restitution of cultural property would be dealt with on an individual basis & therefore assessed on its own merits, which negated the idea that the return of a single item would set a precedent leading to the rapid emptying of museum collections.

Sydney Morning Herald

Brits to return Tas Aboriginal remains
March 25, 2006 – 5:49AM

The British Museum will return two Tasmanian Aboriginal cremation ash bundles to the state.

The ash bundles contain ash gathered from a human cremation site wrapped in animal skin, and were thought to have been used as amulets to ward off illness.

They were acquired in about 1838 by George Augustus Robinson, a Christian missionary and conciliator for conflicts between Aborigines and early settlers.
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British Museum to return Aboriginal remains to Tasmania

Posted at 12:23 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Last year, the Human Tissue Act (2004) came in to force. Although most of the act was not relevant to museums, section 47 deals with human remains in their collections & gives them a right to de-accession these items if they feel it is appropriate.
One of the key reasons behind this act (& the limitations such as the 200 year rule) was negotiations initiated by the Australian government with Britain to allow Aboriginal remains to be returned permanently.
An agreement has just been made by the British Museum to return some cremation ashes to Tasmania. The British Museum has relatively few items that would fall under the Human Tissue Act, but campaigners in Australia hope that these returns will lead to the return of much larger numbers of remains in the collection of Natural History Museum.

Tasmanian Examiner

UK museum will return remains
By LUCIE VAN DEN BERG , Saturday, 25 March 2006

After 21 years of negotiating, the British Museum in London will give back two rare bundles of Tasmanian Aboriginal remains to the State.

The historic decision will result in the return to Tasmanian Aborigines of the precious cremation ashes that were taken from the necks of sick or dead Aborigines in the earlier stages of white settlement. The ashes were traditionally worn on the body of Aborigines in the belief that they would ward off pain, sickness and ill-fortune and are thought to be the last of their kind in existence.
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