Friday, May 28, 2010

Looting: The Essence of the Lie

Those who assail private antiquities collectors and the trade that supplies them, Paul Barford for example, as being responsible for what everyone accepts as being the great evil of looting of archaeological sites, must first understand the problem. Mr. Barford has a very simplistic and inherently irrational approach, i.e. that anyone who acquires anything that might conceivably have been looted is guilty of supporting looting.

One might attempt to make a case for such an approach in the case of a major antiquity such as a statue, whose value would dictate that any prudent acquirer would pay considerable attention to its provenance. However, common sense (not often encountered in the case of ideologues such as Mr. Barford) dictates that no one is likely to pay such attention to the provenance of a common ancient coin that may be worth no more than one pound sterling.

The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of artifacts in existing collections would, if anyone were paid to investigate them in enough detail to objectively ascertain their origin, be determined to be either of licit origin, or of unknown and unknowable origin.

Mr. Barford would, consistently with his past excesses, portray such a result as supporting his view that no one should be allowed to collect unprovenanced artifacts.

The truth however is that nearly all ancient artifacts that are not of significant value are unprovenanced, and have historically always been so, and that it is not economically possible for every artifact to have a documented provenance unless some governmental authority creates that provenance.

Mr. Barford has consistently attempted, in his remarks on provenance, to present that as being the responsibility of the trade. This is however simplistic and unrealistic. The trade cannot unilaterally set provenance standards, they must first be agreed upon by the collecting community and by relevant authorities. It is in every respect fair and truthful to observe that nothing Barford has done has in any way advanced the acceptance of widely recognized provenance standards. Instead he immoderately, incessantly belabors collectors for not conforming to his own views.

No one has ever advanced scientifically valid evidence demonstrating that private collecting of antiquities actually causes looting. If Mr. Barford desires to establish that point, he would be well advised to adopt an approach that demonstrates that his views are sustained by evidence conforming to the scientific method and by arguments conforming to the rules of logic. Until that has happened, it is in every respect justifiable to declare that the whole attack upon private collecting is nothing more than a lie.

Dave Welsh
Unidroit-L Listowner


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