Raiding the Past: What Future for Antiquities? Cultures Clash over Who Has the Right to Own, Display, or Sell Historic Objects

By Jennings, Lane | The Futurist, May-June 2006 | Go to article overview

Raiding the Past: What Future for Antiquities? Cultures Clash over Who Has the Right to Own, Display, or Sell Historic Objects


Jennings, Lane, The Futurist


It's an old story, and a sad one. In humanity's mad rush to build a proud future and make the present more secure, many grand achievements of the past are tossed aside, left to disappear forever. History is full of cases where pillagers and vandals tear down or carry off the monuments of a defenseless or undervalued past.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Not only do conquering armies seek plunder, but so do individuals. Ordinary people, struggling to survive in poverty near sites where powerful and wealthy peoples once flourished, treat the relics of past glories as raw material for new construction, or simply a potential source of cash.

Serious efforts to protect ancient monuments and to collect and preserve artifacts for careful study effectively began in 1798 when Napoleon Bonaparte brought a team of scientists along with his army invading Egypt. Over the next two centuries, U.S. and European governments, universities, museums, and wealthy collectors financed many expeditions to discover, record, and acquire (sometimes for money, sometimes by force) ancient objects, human remains, works of art, and even entire buildings.

Today, it is easy to dismiss such "fieldwork" as simply acts of arrogance toward peoples too poor or too weak to resist effectively. Certainly many governments, museums, and research institutes have changed their policies. And some have now begun restoring certain items and apologizing for past actions. But there is another side to this kind of looting.

The foreign institutions and collectors who are accused of stealing many ancient objects often saved them from destruction or slow decay. And the true significance of many sites and artifacts might never have been known without the careful handling and study they received from Western experts.

Respect for local heritage has spread and deepened as more nations have gained independence and a sense of common identity. Yet, even today, wherever ancient peoples once lived, worked, and buried their dead, individuals and organized bands are digging for objects to carry off and sell. In the process, they may obscure or completely erase the history of the objects they uncover.

Now and then a treasure hoard of precious metal objects or a large statue may be uncovered by professional archaeologists in the field or offered at auction. But most of the antiquities trade today involves individuals of relatively modest means who simply want a small piece of the past to show off and admire.

Through online sites and mail order catalogs, art and antiquities dealers offer everything from Egyptian mummy beads to Roman coins, from Mayan pottery to African masks. Serious collectors and casual shoppers alike can buy an ancient Greek wine jar or an Etruscan vase as easily as any modern painting or print.

Past efforts to stop looting have included guarding important sites, banning the sale or export of ancient artifacts and major works of art, and using customs authorities and police to check that buyers, sellers, and collectors all display reliable documentation to prove they are not in possession of stolen goods.

But none of these measures has been fully effective. As art and cultural reporter Roger Atwood states in his recent book, Stealing History, "The biggest obstacle to stopping the looting of the ancient world is overcoming the feeling that it is inevitable ... [that] as long as there are rich buyers, there will always be poor looters willing to supply them."

Given the present rate of worldwide looting, Atwood calculates that, within decades, only a handful of tourist-thronged, highly publicized, and heavily protected ancient sites will remain.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Raiding the Past: What Future for Antiquities? Cultures Clash over Who Has the Right to Own, Display, or Sell Historic Objects
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.