Memorandum submitted by Sir John Boardman
This is a response to the invitation for submission
of evidence to your inquiry. I am a retired professor of classical
archaeology and art (mainly Greek, but also Near Eastern and Indian)
and member of several non-British national academies. I have excavated
(Greece, Turkey, Libya), worked in a museum (Oxford), taught,
and published for both academics and the public. A number of the
topics I raise here may seem only tangentially relevant to your
problem, but need to be aired in this context. Not all archaeologists
will agree with all I write here, partly on what they believe
to be ethical grounds, partly from self-interest, though I believe
that many in the non-English-speaking world do, including those
in source countries (with which I have many academic links).
1. Cultural property is not the same as
national heritage, yet it is deemed so in your paper since this
speaks of "return" which implies "return to place
of manufacture or display". "Cultural property"
relates to the history of man and must be guarded; the reasons
for this need stating (below) and are paramount. "National
heritage" begs too many questionswhat is a "nation"?what
of an Islamic country destroying or neglecting or allowing to
be marketed pre-Islamic remains because they are not of its heritage
(Afghanistan)?what of a Christian country destroying or
neglecting or allowing to be marketed Islamic remains for the
same reason (Greece, Bulgaria)? Should that property that escapes
by whatever means be shunned, or should it be rescued by the more
enlightened nations concerned with preserving the cultural property
of man? "National heritage" can be interpreted at will,
moved by sentiment (sometimes politically motivated) or possessiveness,
and is seldom as obviously identified as the Stone of Scone; compare
attitudes to a marble group by an Italian artist made for a special
setting in England, but removed and sold by its ownerhardly
still "national" yet clung to (Canova's Graces).
2. The rape of museums and ancient sites
by thieves is illicit; this should be enough, but the law must
be more rigorously enforced. Objects proved stolen must be returned,
but, in accordance with common justice, identity must be satisfactorily
proved: not easy, but generally possible. For some objects presumed
stolen the presumption can be very strong indeed, such as might
satisfy a jury (the Sevso treasure); anything less would be unjust.
There is a very great deal of cultural property which has been
licitly acquired but is "on the loose" and undocumented.
So it should be a matter of "innocent until proved or very
reasonably presumed guilty"; this is not generally the case.
3. A great many antiquities are found casually,
and always will be. A majority are of minimal archaeological value,
being divorced from their context, but of great potential teaching
and display value. To remove these from the market serves no purpose
whatever since it cannot prevent accidental discovery, and will
simply force any trade in them underground. There is nothing immoral
about collectingit is a basic animal activityand
has proved to be the resource for major educational projects,
as well as being the foundation of all national collections.
4. Whom do you trust for advice? Archaeologists
(I am one, but not a collector) are on the whole rather jealous
and greedy creatures. They are quick to cry out against illicit
trade, and against those other scholars who may make academic
use of objects from what are taken to be illicit sources (but
now in museums or collections), in which case some try to impose
a despicable form of censorship (USA). There can be a measure
of hypocrisy or even guilt here. All excavation, licit and illicit,
is destructive. We dig for information, not objects. No little
cultural property is lost through the very common failure of archaeologists
to publish what they have found (which is more than objects).
And their jealous "squirreling away" of what they have
found, so that it can serve neither other scholars nor the education
of the public who have paid them, has been described recently
by a senior archaeologist/art-historian as a form of necrophilia.
A number of the objects stolen recently from Corinth (and recovered
in Miami) were found in the 1930s, yet were only published in
photographs once they had been stolen! A British archaeologist
(whom you will hear), now vociferous against the trade, has himself
published (thereby enhancing the value of) a large collection
of wholly illicitly excavated objects, and has also excavated
material which has long remained unpublished. The testimony of
archaeologists (including me) needs to be treated with as much
caution as that of collectors, dealers and nationalists. There
are some highly misleading statistics around.
5. Cultural property is wholly about the
history of man and not at all about possession. This is the ethical
basis for its protection. We explore and cherish our past because
we learn from it about our place in the world, and the place of
other civilizations. We (and others) should take pride in what
we judge to be our "national" achievement but not to
the point of jealous hoarding, and should be as proud and well-informed
about the achievements of others. Those who exploit cultural property
by methods which destroy most of the information it might convey
are worse than mere thieves and should be treated as such; these
include both robbers and dealers and non-publishing archaeologists
("academic felons"). Not all archaeologists understand
the true purpose of their studiesto record, understand
and instruct, not accumulate. [Several source countries and British
Institutes abroad have joined in appealing for action against
what I call "serial excavators", by withholding permits
and funds; the paper is now in the hands of the British Academy
6. The British Government was the first
in Europe to buy "for the nation", that is to say for
educational purposes, a major complex of antiquities from a private
person. These have continued to be a major source of instruction
to more millions than they could attract elsewhere (the Elgin
Marbles). We too have a proud "heritage" of responsibility
towards the educational use of world cultural property.
7. Culture and education are worldwide,
not national concerns. Total restriction on the movement of cultural
property for the education and enjoyment of the public should
be repugnant to any modern society.
8.1 Enforce, and make sure that others enforce,
existing laws against the illicit trade and especially the destruction
of sites. Penalties should be such that resumption of such activities
becomes impossible. Unfortunately the policing authorities in
many source countries may be corrupt, dealers are powerful people,
and auction houses adept at covering their tracks. Some collectors
wield power through wealth or political associations; some scholars
can be self-serving.
8.2 Do not kill the trade by allowing unproved
assumptions to be made about origins, nor thereby drive it underground.
8.3 Recognize that a low-level peddling
of antiquities is quite inevitable and that it effectively disseminates
educative material as well as satisfies the legitimate aspirations
of collectors. This is generally not in the hands of major dealers
and auction houses.
8.4 Recognize that some UNESCO guidelines
may be more politically than academically motivated, and may not
always be in the best interests of the preservation and use, through
display worldwide, of cultural property.
8.5 To counter the trade: encourage source
countries to allow generous long loans of cultural property to
museums in other countries. This has been mooted before (in Egypt
and Italy) but came to nothing thanks to over-possessive curators.
The "deal" in Italy was to be that such objects would
be conserved and restored by the borrowers in ways for which the
Italian state could not find the time or money. I would be inclined
to include sale of duplicates or trivia, to museums or to collectors
(some of whom might otherwise seek other sources). Keeping track
of where things are is relatively easy these days. This practice
would effectively counter much illicit trade.
8.6 No museum should be required to surrender
any object unless proof of theft (from museum or site) is clear,
and unless there are undertakings that it will be as well looked
after and available for view and study in its new location (unless
it is a matter of return to a looted museum; yet there are exceptionsKabul).
8.7 National museums should be encouraged,
not disbarred, from acquiring objects which reach the market from
trouble spots or countries indifferent to any "heritage"
not of contemporary relevance to them. Otherwise the cultural
property is lost and may be destroyed. Ultimate return is always
possible, when judged safe (Kabul?).
8.8 Cultural property "historically
removed". Return to place of manufacture or display should
depend on whether its true role will be better served by return,
not on "nationalist" or sentimental grounds, and on
no account on political grounds
8.9 Many countries of the Third World might
welcome advice on the policing of sites and trade. Dissemination
of information about stolen objects needs better international