Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"art squad v tomb raiders"

A general piece on the illicit antiquities trade.

Antiquities theft seems to me a serious issue, though I find myself differing from most of the people I've seen quoted on the issue (not that I've read much on the subject). Identity politics and nationalism make me very uncomfortable, and I have a hard time accepting that ethnicity or nationailty gives someone a special claim to culture, particularly ancient culture, which is equally accessible to all. I get the feeling that a lot of outrage over antiquities theft has to do with some vague notion of the works as belonging to a given people.

I never feel for the aggrieved nation, but rather for history. My only concern is that raided antiquities can tell us far less about history than those properly excavated. It angers me as much as the 'theft of culture' angers others. And yet I'm inclined to think that my reaction is the more sensible: while my primary motivation is to increase our store of certain historical evidence, many others seem motivated primarily by a belief in the sanctity of cultural identity and national pride.

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