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Vol 04 No. 01 January 1990

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About This File

As we go to press, the Archaeological Institute of America is preparing for its 91st annual meeting in Boston. The AlA is an organization which we have faithfully supported and which we have heralded for its contributions to the dissemination of knowledge about the ancient world.

We have also supported the association's view condemning the plunder and destruction of archaeological sites. We now have serious concerns, however, about the direction the AlA is heading in their effort to preserve cultural resources. Coming before the membership this year is a new proposition affecting the AlA member code of ethics. The proposition states that a member of the AlA will refuse to participate in any way in the trade in antiquities that are derived from illicit excavations and refrain from activities that enhance the commercial value of such objects."

In the AlA newsletter of November 1989, Clemency Chase Coggins. Co-Chair of the Commitee on Professional Responsibilities blasts the antiquities market stating that "Although it is not apparent to the ordinary purchaser, an ancient object has usually been looted and exported illegally from its country of origin, and the purchase price will help finance continued pillage."

Coggins further States in the front-page newsletter article titled "On Loving Archaeology" that "Scholarly involvement tends to legitimize the antiquities market but collecting underwrites il ... Lovers of collecting can learn to collect something that is not endangered."

As a member of the governing board of the AlA, Coggins urges endorsement of the code provisions by all members.

One must assume that the placement and timing of this article reflects strong support of this position by the AlA hierarchy. In doing so, the AlA has seemingly declared open war on the collecting fraternity. It is incredible that an agency of such public minded spirit could undertake such a misguided, foolhardy, and counterproductive policy.

In truth, the great museum collections of the world, in places like London, New York, Berlin, Copenhagen, and other collections that have served to illuminate the history of art and culture· were donated by collectors. The archaeologist's spade may have contributed a few study groups or placed certain issues in their proper context, but the great mass of information accumulated over the past three centuries, from the study of ancient coinage, came mainly from collectors.

To flatly condemn trade in antiquities is an irrational and impractical reaction to an admittedly volatile situation. All of the "source" counties have laws concerning the export of antiquities. it is incumbent upon them to enforce those laws. If customs officials, museum officials, and diplomat's tum their heads in exchange for a gratuity "should we condemn the collector? It is simply not fair to lay the guilt of site destruction upon innocent collectors by inferring that all antiquities were obtained illegally.

Since it is legal to sell and export antiquities in some "source" countries, how could the collector ascertain the provenience, the date of transfer, and therefore the legality of any particular piece? Is it to be assumed, in every case, that exportation was illegal1 Is the collector guilty until proven innocent? Is the AlA now to assume the role of judge and jury?

We have previously stated our disagreement with many of the current laws governing the exportation of antiquities, especially from the Middle East, however, we respect the right of those countries to implement and enforce those laws. We feel the matter should be left in their hands and in the hands of the appropriate courts.

We believe the AlA would be well advised to rethink their position on this matter.

This issue marks the beginning of our fourth year at The Celator. We sincerely thank all of our readers and advertisers for their loyalty and support. We pledge to do everything in our power toward further improvement in 1990.

That's it for this month. we enjoyed meeting so many of you in New York and look forward to seeing our California friends at Long Beach. In the meantime. write and let us hear your point of view!



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