Protecting Antiquities and Saving the Universal Museum: A Necessary Compromise between the Conflicting Ideologies of Cultural Property

Article excerpt

The debate over ownership of antiquities is not a new conflict. Nationalists insist that all cultural items discovered within the legal borders of a nation belong to that nation and its people. Conversely, internationalists assert that antiquities are the property of people universally. Despite the ratification of international treaties and tremendous efforts toward reform, internationalists and nationalists are still unable to reconcile their opinions to the detriment of both viewpoints. Archaeologists and art-rich nations continue to struggle with looting and the illicit market, while universal museums worry about licitly expanding their collections to ensure a complete view of the world's history. This Note examines the struggle between these divergent viewpoints and proposes some solutions to aid in reaching a compromise, which will ensure the legal and universal appreciation of culture and history worldwide.


    A. Internationalism and the Universal Museum
    B. A History of Nationalism and Protecting National Culture

    A. Problems with the Internationalist/Nationalist Dichotomy
    B. Imperialism, Politics, and the Change in the International
       Playing Field
       1. The role of politics in the preservation of cultural
       2. How imperialism affected the international movement
          of cultural property

    A. Forgiving Past Indiscretions & Looking to the Future
    B. Enforcement & Use of National & International
       Committees of the Blue Shield
    C. Creating a Licit Market and Utilization of Sponsor,
       Loan, and Renting Programs
       1. The current state of antiquities in art-rich nations
          a. Italy case study
          b. Japan case study
       2. The positive aspects of licit market and trade


"The battle over ancient treasures is, at its base, a conflict over identity, and over the right to reclaim the objects that are its tangible symbols. At a time when East and West wage pitched battle over fundamental notions of identity..., antiquities have become yet another weapon in this clash of cultures, another manifestation of the yawning divide. And ironically, it undermines the very purpose of cultural exchange, of building bridges and furthering mutual understanding." (1)


As you open your Sunday paper, an article on the front page catches your eye: "Ten Commandments Tablets Unearthed in Gaza During Archaeological Dig." The article reports that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City came to an agreement with Israel permitting the museum to remove some of the items it discovered, while the remainder of the artifacts would remain in Gaza. Upon discovering the Tablets, the Met is in luck because, according to its agreement with Israel, it now has the authority to export them to New York for restoration and display.

The first thing that you may ask after reading this article is: When can I see the Tablets? Or perhaps different though related questions come to mind, such as who will have an ownership claim? Why would an item be preserved in a war-torn region where its safety may be compromised? Where can the entire find be legally restored and exhibited? Will the find ever be shared with other nations? It is fairly implausible that a partage agreement (2) such as the one described in the Sunday paper would exist amidst the staunch nationalistic views of art-rich nations. (3) Yet one may query whether a treasure such as the Ten Commandments should be kept in the safety of a "universal museum" (4) as a treasure for all of humankind to view in the safety of a peaceful nation. Despite continuous confrontation, these questions remain unanswered. (5)

One view--the internationalist perspective--espouses that a treasure such as the Ten Commandment Tablets belongs on display for the entire world to see. …