Illicit: A Word Whose Meaning Can Be Very Misleading
"Please note that I do NOT subscribe to using the term "illicit" in this discussion. Referring to http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/illicit , the primary definition of "illicit" is 'not allowed by law: unlawful or illegal.' A secondary definition is 'involving activities that are not considered morally acceptable.' The manner in which archaeologists use the word "illicit" trades upon that secondary definition in a manner which in my opinion amounts to doublespeak: "language that can be understood in more than one way and that is used to trick or deceive people." [...] by deliberately and intentionally engaging in "doublespeak" to pursue their vendetta against collectors, archaeologists who use such terminology violate OUR standards of ethics, which I believe are also those which prevail among the general population."
and then Mr. Barford uttered the following nonsense:
"In the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language the word illicit is defined in the way I and my colleagues use it ...
Definition of illicit in English: Pronunciation: /ɪˈlɪsɪt/ adjective Forbidden by law, rules, or custom: illicit drugs, illicit sex
It is not in any way 'unethical' (sic) to use the term illicit sex in a way which does not mean illegal sex."
In an illogical and misleading attempt to relate that "statement of the obvious" to discussing the looting and smuggling of looted artifacts, the context in which I had objected to the manner in which "illicit" is being used, Barford continued:
"There is a reason why the good folk of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization called their 1970 Convention: "Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property..."
In his attempt to legitimize deceptive and misleading use of the word "illicit" by anticollecting archaeologists in their writings, Mr. Barford ignored the following very clear and precise definition of its meaning with respect to the Convention he referred to:
The import, export or transfer of ownership of cultural property effected contrary to the provisions adopted under this Convention by the States Parties thereto, shall be illicit.
The Convention subsequently refers (in Articles 7 and 10) to illegal export of cultural property as being illicit, in a manner which makes it very clear that illicit, when used in that document, always and only means illegal. More precisely, contrary to the law(s) of the state from which the cultural property in question was exported.
The 1970 UNESCO Convention being the internationally adopted agreement governing transfer of cultural property across international borders, it is absolutely clear that in reference to cultural property such as ancient artifacts, illicit always and only means illegal.
It is therefore misleading and 'unethical' to use the term 'illicit artifact' in a public discussion, on a public venue, in a way which does not mean 'illegally exported artifact.'
Archaeologists opposed to collecting of unprovenanced artifacts, however, use the term illicit in their scholarly writings in a manner which is clearly described here:
"The question of what to call, and indeed what to do with, cultural objects which have no apparent evidence of illegality or proof of its absence in their past is really at the centre of the contemporary debate about the looting problem, and within the cohort of unprovenanced antiquities there will be objects that are more and those that are less suspicious. Some proponents of free trade in cultural objects would hold that without definitive proof of looting, trade in unprovenanced artefacts should simply be viewed as legal. The criminological perspective outlined above, however, encourages us to be more nuanced in our approach, and to develop terms and concepts which can capture the uncertainty which the justice system has obscured with its harsh binary distinction."
"‘Illicit’ antiquities is the term which has developed in the research literature to convey the perceived suspect origins of artefacts which cannot be, or have yet to be, proven illegal."
A term which has developed in the research literature. A term whose only actual substance is that it has become accepted use in the writings of archaeologists discussing perceived suspect origins of artifacts.
What are suspect origins? The context in which this is used in the article cited above clearly intends that to mean "objects that are more, as distinguished from those that are less, suspicious." So in the view of its author , suspect origins means origins which with good reason may be considered to be suspicious. It does not mean origins which are simply unknown.
The use of 'illicit' is however being extended to include unknown origins, in the journals in which archaeologists publish. Here is an example:
"In the United States an illicit antiquity has come to be defined as any ancient cultural artifact that did not belong to a public or private collection formed prior to 1983 ... The American Journal of Archaeology, for instance, will not 'serve for the announcement or initial scholarly presentation of any object in a private or public collection acquired after 30 December 1973, unless the object was part of a previously existing collection or has been legally exported from the country of origin' (F.S. Kleiner, 'On the Publication of Recent Acquisitions of Antiquities', AJA 94 (1990), p. 525.) and the journal Antiquity has adopted a similar policy (C. Chippindale, 'Editorial', Antiquity 65, no. 246 [March 1991]"
This extension sets a standard for what might be described as archaeological ethics. So far as archaeologists writing for scholarly journals in their field are concerned, illicit artifact means an ancient cultural artifact that did not belong to a public or private collection formed prior to 1983.
Archaeological ethics, needless to say, apply only to archaeologists. They, and the associations to which they belong, have every right to define such ethics as they see fit, however they do not have a right to insist, or assume, that archaeological ethics should govern the conduct of people who are not archaeologists, or employed in a related field such as museum curation.
It is therefore misleading and 'unethical' to use the term 'illicit artifact' in a public discussion, on a public venue, according to the archaeological ethics standard, in a way which does not mean 'illegally exported artifact.'
Now we have arrived at the essence of my comment that
"The manner in which archaeologists use the word "illicit" trades upon that secondary definition in a manner which in my opinion amounts to doublespeak: "language that can be understood in more than one way and that is used to trick or deceive people." [...] by deliberately and intentionally engaging in "doublespeak" to pursue their vendetta against collectors, archaeologists who use such terminology violate OUR standards of ethics, which I believe are also those which prevail among the general population."
Archaeologists and others with an interest in the artifacts trade are freely and loosely using the term "illicit" in public venues that are not scholarly journals, in a sense which in practice means, unprovenanced.
A notable example of this came in this Memorandum submitted by Professor Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn in 2000 to the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport:
"The illicit trade in unprovenanced antiquities has a damaging effect upon the reputation of the much wider legitimate trade in cultural property."
Another instance of this usage appears in STOLEN ART, LOOTED ANTIQUITIES, AND THE INSURABLE INTEREST REQUIREMENT:
"The trade in unprovenanced antiquities has exploded over the past forty years. Indeed, most antiquities (between sixty and ninety percent) offered for sale on the international market have no provenance. These unprovenanced antiquities generally end up in private and public collections in Europe, North America, and the Far East. The market for illicit, unprovenanced antiquities is huge."
Such indiscriminate usage, without any accompanying disclosure that 'illicit' actually only means not conforming to archaeological ethics, clearly implies that the trade in unprovenanced antiquities is either illegal or immoral. Such an implication, in a public venue not restricted to archaeologists and others understanding their specialized terminology, is wrong. To an uninformed reader, it is very misleading and deceptive.
It is impossible to believe that those who are doing this are unaware of the extent to which the use of loaded language such as this prejudices a discussion.
By deliberately and intentionally engaging in such "doublespeak" to pursue their vendetta against collectors, archaeologists who use such terminology do indeed violate the standards of ethics which prevail among antiquities collectors, which I believe are also those which prevail among the general population.
I don't believe they should be allowed to continue doing this, without being called to account by those whom they are so freely criticizing.