Sunday, August 05, 2007

Indiana Jones and the Desecration of the Temple of Doom

A friend was a archeologist, until he got tired of rainy days digging through mud and dirt making cultural importance assessments on the sites of future roadways and construction projects.

He supposedly found some interesting things in his digs, but nothing quite like the what you see in the Indiana Jones movies. When antiquities collectors "find" artifacts from the past, and send them to dealers, who sell them to collectors, there are a whole range of questions to ask. These include:
  • Who "owns" the works in question?

  • What laws are in place to protect that ownership, and what is the potential risk in violating those laws?

  • What international impacts can the movement of such treasures have upon political relationships between countries?

Reasononline takes a careful look at the subject in Reason: Ancient Treasures for Sale: Do antique dealers preserve the past or steal it?

Interesting classification of three different groups involved in the debate:

  • Academics, dealers, and collectors who want cultural artifacts to be able to move around the globe in a regulated manner, so that they can be shared by people and learned about with the exposure.

  • National officials and academics who believe that these cultural artifacts are tied to the place where they were found and are part of the history and identity of that culture.

  • Archeologists and historians who believe that such cultural treasures are only part of the picture, and should be left where they are, so that they can be studied in context, and tell us about the past.

If you where hiking along in the local state park, and you found something of potentially historical significance, would you:

  • Take it home with you, and display it on your mantle?

  • Take it, and contact your local historical society, or a government official?

  • Leave it where it is, make a note of the location, and contact your local historical society or a government official?

Would it make a difference if it were an arrowhead, a saber from the civil war era, a piece of colonial pottery, or something else?

Another friend recently had me helping inventory some of the contents of an antique shop, where the owner had past away, and the contents of the shop needed to be sold. Some of the items in the shop were more artifact than antique. It was amazing seeing works produced 500 or more years ago. The attraction to sharing these pieces of work is understandable. It would be great to share them with as many people as possible.