August 28, 2010

New Red List from ICOM to draw awareness to looting of cultural artefacts

Posted at 12:21 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Like many poorer countries, Belize has suffered from removal of its cultural heritage in the past by richer nations. The looting of artefacts to be sold on the black market is still a problem today & a new database created by The International Council of Museums aims to try to create an awareness of this.

7 News Belize

Looted Archaeological Treasures on Red List
posted (June 10, 2010)

We all know about the Jade Head, or the Buena Vista Vase, or the Crystal skull…these are well known treasures of antiquity. But what about all the mayan treasures that have been looted by temple raiders or the state sanctioned plunder that happened in the colonial era? Those are gone forever – there’s no inventory of all the treasured antiquities lying undiscovered at sites across Belize and now way of knowing what all was looted.

It is a problem throughout Latin America where looting of mayan sites is widespread. However it’s become a problem for developed countries as well where the trafficking in cultural objects has become widespread.

That’s why the international council of museums has developed what’s called the red list, a massive database of all the cultural objects that are known to be missing or on the market worldwide. The idea is to create awareness amongst relevant authorities to fight against the illicit traffic in these items.

An awareness campaign was launched in Belize today by staffers from the council of museums and Interpol. And as we found out from Dr. Jaime Awe, in terms of illicit traffic of these items, Belize is redder than red:….

Dr. Jaime Awe

“One of the things about this process that we are trying to adopt. Belize has adopted and participated in is to bring awareness internationally that we cannot continue condoning the illegal trafficking in cultural objects. In other words no country should be allowing the purchase and importation of cultural icons from other countries.”

Jules Vasquez
“However you will accept that a large number of Belizean antiquities are prominently displayed and preserved at museums abroad and it was a part of a legitimize plunder on our antiquities in the pre-state era.”

Dr. Jaime Awe
“You know we certainly must admit that there are considerable amounts of prehistoric objects, ancient artifacts that were taken from Belize during the colonial period and in many cases with permission and many of these objects today can be seen at the British Museum, Peabody at Harvard, University of Pennsylvania Museum, and other places like that. The Royal Ontario Museum especially has artifacts from Altun Ha. We know that for a long time many sites were pillage especially during the colonial period, many of the colonial powers came into our countries like Belize took what they wanted.”

And while that was sanctioned or decreed form slave state to master state, the laws have changed, but the challenge remains to control the looting and trade in priceless antiquities like these ones seen on the red list brochure:

Dr. Jaime Awe
“There is also unfortunately active trade – buying and selling of antiquities right here in Belize.”

This spectacular jade necklace was recovered right here in Belize in the Orange Walk district – it was along with this sizeable mask. Thought they are both priceless pieces of antiquity, The necklace is worth at least 10 to 20 thousand us dollars, and the mask as much as one hundred thousand us dollars.

Dr. Jaime Awe
“And there is another case again in Orange Walk where these guys were trying to sell some objects, they went to this gentleman who inform us about it and we manage to go up there and the police did a sting and we got the objects.”

If you don’t believe, this dagger made from regular stone is on the red list, it was selling in a collection of three on E bay for ten thousand us dollars.

Dr. Jaime Awe
“Just last week the San Ignacio post office call me and said that a gentleman was trying to mail this box and they have to open the box to see what’s being sent and there were several objects artifacts and some fakes, so I said to the postman, I said we are going to confiscate the real artifacts. The fakes those can go and we manage but the guy had a pseudonym, a false name on who it was being ship but his own surname, so we call several of the hotels and we found out that there was a person with that surname staying at one of the small lodges in San Ignacio and he was on the way to the airport and I call this person and I said ‘hi, let me introduce myself, my name is Jaime Awe, I am the Director of the Belizean Institute of Archaeology, I have in my possessions something you are trying to mail out to yourself’ he goes ‘ I wasn’t mailing to myself, my name is Ryan.’ I can’t remember the name. I said yeah you use a pseudonym, I said if you ever come back to Belize and do this, we are going to take you to court, we are confiscating these objects.”

This necklace was also confiscated in another sting operation in Orange Walk in concert with police:

Dr. Jaime Awe
“I guess that we really rely on officers and the common Belizean person out there to be our eyes and ears. And only through this concerted effort and collaboration will we make a bigger dent on this problem.”

After visiting Belize, the team form the council of museums took their awareness campaign to Guatemala….

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