Saturday, December 31, 2011
THIS is what I'm talking about. If we could just take the money that's being spent on buying illicitly excavated antiquities and redirect it into the restoration of archaeological sites and dilapidated monuments, a lot of conflicts might be solved, the illegal trade might be forced to downsize considerably, and more valuable connections would be made between states, institutions, and individuals. I know it sounds like a grandiose pipe dream, but I think that in the next twenty years it may be possible to achieve, especially considering the lessons my generation of museum/cultural heritage/archaeology professionals will have learned from the blunders of our predecessors. Hopefully, Mr. Yagi and Mr. Della Valle are planting the seeds for a trend that could revolutionize how we approach the problem areas in cultural heritage and archaeology.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
The Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) is to operate a hotline service to receive complaints, ideas and suggestions to help the council develop its archaeological work.
Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim announced the hotline would open on Monday. It will be operated five days per week from Sunday to Thursday from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm until its full operation in January when it will be operated 24 hours per day, seven days per week.I have high hopes for this guy. He's already emphasized his intent to better develop the skills and knowledge of Egypt's archaeologists and his plan to involve youth and junior archaeologists in a much bigger way. It seems Ibrahim has a thorough understanding of the weaknesses and failures in the SCA left over from Hawass's reign, and a much needed perspective on how to fix them. My only complaint is that I think there should also be an emphasis on revamping Egypt's museums; cataloguing their confusing collections under one system, upping security, making new efforts to do outreach education, etc. Can Americans call the hotline? Is that allowed?
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
This first was an acquisition made by a person I know at school.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Additionally, spending some time away from the blog allowed me to better see its problem areas. This past week I've been working hard on making over the whole aesthetic of Things You Can't Take Back, as well as beefing up the resources I've shared and re-approaching the social media that supports it. Now that I'm back (at least until spring term finals), I've made some new resolutions for this next year of blogging:
- The TYCTB Tumblr will no longer solely feature the regurgitation of what I've already blogged here; from now on it will feature all the joys and horrors of Tumblr, which means a lot of entertaining pictures, .gifs, and reblogs, as well as some light regurgitation.
- Twitter still overwhelms and frightens me, but I'm resolving to be more present. And sassy.
- The resource pages (Books, Grad School Guide, Resources) will be updated more regularly and joined by an Internship Guide and a sort of dummies guide to the illicit antiquities trade for first-time readers.
- The Facebook is also no longer a dark hole for my sparse Twitter link regurgitations, but is actually trying to be a Facebook page. Show the most official gesture of support imaginable on the internet and "Like" Things You Can't Take Back!
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Monday, October 24, 2011
Sunday, October 23, 2011
The original version:
Mesopotamia Cover by mouthyheritage
I seriously urge you to submit comments to the Cultural Heritage Center to be considered during the CPAC meeting in November. This .pdf explains how. Rick St. Hilaire has advised that comments should address the "four determinations":
(A) [whether] the cultural patrimony of the State Party is in jeopardy from the pillage of archaeological or ethnological materials of the State Party;Paul Barford has provided a how-to guide in understanding the issues involved and how to craft your support letters.
(B) [whether] the State Party has taken measures consistent with the Convention to protect its cultural patrimony;
(C) [whether] --
(i) the application of the import restrictions . . . with respect to archaeological or ethnological material of the State Party, if applied in concert with similar restrictions implemented, or to be implemented within a reasonable period of time, by those nations (whether or not State Parties [to the 1970 UNESCO Convention]) individually having a significant import trade in such material, would be of substantial benefit in deterring a serious situation of pillage, and
(ii) remedies less drastic than the application of the restrictions set forth in such section are not available; and
(D) [whether] the application of the import restrictions . . . in the particular circumstances is consistent with the general interest of the international community in the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.
You should also check out these articles by David O'Shea (that I found via David Gill) on the looting going on in Bulgaria:
- Treasure Hunting is National Tragedy for Bulgaria
- 33, 000 Treasure Hunters Sack Bulgaria's Archaeology Heritage
Thursday, October 20, 2011
- MY SENIOR WORK IS JUST SO COOL AND GOING SO WELL. In a nutshell, I am focusing on the rift between the museum and archaeological communities when dealing with ancient art/artifacts, particularly unscientifically excavated/looted objects. I will be using the controversy over the Smithsonian's exhibition of the Belitung shipwreck as a focus for how this rift is detrimental to academics and the non-academic public alike. Last week, Julian Raby, the director of the Freer and Sackler Galleries at the Smithsonian, responded to my email wondering if he would be the least bit interested in talking to me about the "Shipwrecked" exhibition. Not only was he enthusiastic about working with me if the exhibition goes up, but he sounds like a very kind and generous fellow. I get the impression that he is a rare breed of museum director: not only is he very aware of the risks involved in exhibiting unscientifically excavated artifacts and willing to spend a great deal of time talking to concerned parties to see if he can make most everyone happy, but he was so kind to be open to the work of a lowly undergraduate student.
- The CAPA opening at Bennington was an incredibly exciting weekend and resulted and three things: First, me finding a new personal hero in author/journalist/human rights activist Rebecca Tinsley. Second, me writing a half-baked draft about whether or not internet activism is more effective than physically protesting because Vermont state representative Brian Campion thinks internet activism isn’t effective; PEOPLE. BOTH INTERNET ACTIVISM AND PHYSICAL PROTESTS ARE A MEANS TO AN END, NOT THE END IN ITSELF. BOTH ARE TOOLS AND WE NEED TO LEARN HOW TO USE THEM TOGETHER IN ORDER TO HELP THE SYSTEM WORK EFFECTIVELY. This really deserves its own post. And third, the introduction of infographics into my life: first there was Gong Szeto’s CAPA workshop on infographics, then today in my conflicts class, our librarian Oceana Wilson gave a talk on infographics/complexity mapping in relation to conflicts. I cannot stress just how much a) Gong should have a class related to infographics next term and b) how important a tool infographics is for EVERYTHING but especially for studying the illicit antiquities trade.
- My conflicts course, Solving the Impossible, is one of the most glaringly useful courses I’ve ever taken EVER. A post will happen sometime in the near future about finding vacuums in conflicts, and the vacuums I’ve discovered in the antiquities trade conflict that need filling by all of you.
- I am ¼ of the way done with my senior year of college. Nausea, again.
Now that I am halfway through this term, most of my research is done and I’m in my writing stages. Hopefully, I will have more of an internet presence and posts like this will not occur regularly.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
"We would not dispute that collections in the great Western museums have served as infinite sources of education, enjoyment, and awe for countless residents and tourists of these cities. There is even an argument to be made that more people across the world encounter and learn from these artifacts in a Western museum than would were they all returned to the sites of their creation. However, the purpose of a historical artifact is the rare insight it affords the world of the present into the world of the past, and the value of that insight depends upon a conversation between the object's current home and the site of its creation."The article expresses hope that Harvard will follow the example of its peer institution, Yale, which is now moving to create a jointly operated research center with the Peruvian government after a lawsuit called for the repatriation of certain Incan artifacts. They conclude, "We can only hope that Harvard's approach in the future will be one of active engagement with the cultures from which many of the artifacts in its museum were taken and that the Rubin case doesn't set a precedent of stifling discourse between East and West."
In a word, swoon. I could not have said this better myself. This article is so dead on, and I am so excited that it's been published by such a hugely influential college newspaper. My only frustration is that the byline simply says, "The Crimson Staff". WHO IS THIS PERSON? I WANT TO TALK TO YOU. EMAIL ME.
Friday, September 23, 2011
What's your game, Cuno?
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Seriously though, I really am going to start blogging like a serious person again. I promise.
Thanks for the shout out!
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
So I Googled Leonardo Patterson.
From the Los Angeles Times: "This guy is legendary in the field," said Michael Coe, a retired Yale anthropology professor who told authorities in 1997 that a 1997 Patterson exhibit in Spain included possible fakes. "He has managed to have a career that is just unbelieveable."
From Stanford's Cultural Heritage Resource: "
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Monday, September 5, 2011
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
I hope all my East coast readers stayed safe and didn't suffer too much damage over the weekend from the hurricane; I was able to get to school a day early to avoid it, and luckily, my college in Vermont only suffered a power outage and a day without hot water. Just down the hill from us, however, the entire town of Bennington was flooded and suffered huge amounts of damage. Vermont is in particularly bad shape after Irene; the violent flooding swept away houses and roads, and forced the state to close down hundreds of roads and about 30 highway bridges, leaving thousands cut off. The National Guard has been airlifting food, water, and supplies to isolated towns.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Yesterday, the San Francisco Examiner featured an Op Ed by Walter Olson, editor of Overlawyered.com, on the demise of the “innocuous” hobby of collecting ancient or dug up coins. Olson belittles the recent repatriation requests of Egypt, Peru, and Greece, and bemoans the domestic laws that ban the trade of pre-Columbian and indigenous remains and artifacts. He calls the rights of origin countries to their cultural property a “dubious premise”, citing the fact that national governments and modern cultures are often distinct from the culture whose artifacts they want returned. Olson broadly claims that these national governments “often lack the will or the means to conserve fragile artifacts as well as collectors would.” He asks if some sort of property right is at issue, and muses,
“Well, one might conceivably argue that certain artifacts, such as funerary urns and temple friezes, must by their nature be regarded as stolen property since at some point they must have been looted from sites originally contemplated as permanent. However, temples might choose to sell their friezes, dynasties go out of business with no receiver in bankruptcy and so forth.”
However, he believes that coins should be treated differently, stating that they “were meant to circulate”. He ends by asking, “Yet modern antiquities law falls over itself to cater to the wishes of the jealous sovereign, at a cost to both fairness and the interests of conservation. Why?”
I’ll tell you why, Mr. Olson. The trade in antiquities without provenance is condemned and, in some areas, restricted for a reason; digging up artifacts, any artifacts (coins included), without scientific training destroys archaeological context. Without this context, we permanently lose any information the object may have been able to tell us about the specific people and culture that made this object, what the object was used for, how the type of object may have evolved over time, when the object appears and disappears in the archaeological record, etc. Not only is this invaluable information lost forever, but the people who created this object are disrespected and demeaned through the desecration of their culture’s remains.
This holds true for coins as well; if a metal detectorist in England were to find a coin from the Han dynasty in China, the existence of that coin in a certain layer of dirt could be connected to other objects close by that might explain the relationship between England and China in my super outlandish scenario. But if that metal detectorist simply picks up the coin and sells it on Ebay to one of the grandparents of those awestruck kids you mention, the entire meaning behind the coin and its history is irreparably dissolved. When this is repeated a countless number of times to feed a growing market, similarly countless numbers of connections and histories are lost forever. Numismatics is an incredibly important aspect of professional archaeology; the destruction of the archaeological context of coins could forever alter our understanding of the relationships and trade routes between ancient peoples.
On the matter of nations’ rights to their cultural property, who is to say that Western culture has a greater right to everyone else’s ancient objects and cultural patrimony? Who are you to claim that England has a greater right to the Elgin Marbles than Greece, or that Germany has a greater right to the bust of Nefertiti than Egypt? This is a dangerously elitist and colonialist point of view. As a Western culture, we do not have a greater right over other countries to own their cultural objects. Yes, the relative safety and stability of our societies combined with the technology we have available to preserve ancient objects does make our countries particularly well-equipped to hold and conserve many objects. However, that does not secure us the right to have these objects in our care when they were illegally ripped from the ground in another geographic and national region. If you believe the nation they came from has no right to these objects, then technically neither do we.
I disagree entirely with the collectors’ widespread tendency to appreciate ancient objects only for their aesthetic value and faintly mystical historical characteristics, or historicity. Ancient artifacts are much more than their aesthetic value; for many people, they are emotionally, culturally and historically meaningful objects that connect them to their nation’s ancestry, whether that ancestry is biologically or spiritually chosen.
There are so many more ways to approach these issues than to simply draw the lines between nationalist and technological rights, and stand firmly in a camp that promotes such destruction. A lot of problematic birds could be killed with some innovative stones if collectors rerouted their focus from buying individual artifacts to supporting museum, conservation, and archaeology efforts in “origin” countries. Maybe, instead of supporting a system that does very little to improve poverty-stricken economies in “origin” countries, collectors could spend their thousands and millions on cultural and educational centers that would not only provide jobs for would-be looters and dealers, but improve understanding of history and culture in regions that have little access to formal education. Maybe, instead of hoarding all of our cultural and technological knowledge to this one area of the world, we could make greater efforts to empower "origin" countries so they have the economical and technological means to care for their own cultural heritage. Maybe, instead of lamenting the end of this Western “hobby” of collecting the objects stolen from the graves and homes of people more exotic than us, you could use your access to the media to raise awareness about the world-wide destruction of our human history. In the end, those awestruck little kids will be able to maintain their awe if they actually have a history to be awed by.
None of us have the right to deny human beings their cultural and geographical heritage. To do so is a dangerously subtle form of genocide.
In ten short days, I will be back at Bennington College for my senior year. Thank the lard. I’ve been going to college since I was 17. I’ll be 23 when I graduate. In all that time I like to think I’ve figured out how to navigate higher education while still being a (moderately) healthy and sane person. I count last year as my first full year of truly being 100% semi-functional. The proof: I only kind of related to Liz Lemon in that episode of 30 Rock where she pulls that all-nighter and yells, “YOU DO NOT CROSS A SUGAR BAKER WOMAN. AND THIS IS MY HOUSE. I’m so tired you guys, I’m so tired.” This is not to say I didn’t come close to that, or that it wasn’t hard. It was really hard. It was one of the hardest years of my life, academically and personally. But the success here is that any sickness I contracted was brief and didn’t disrupt my work; I had significantly fewer breakdowns that usual (I could count them on one hand if I had to); and I had a record number of breakthroughs about my work and my relationships with others that gave me invaluable perspective to hold onto when life wasn’t so easy. In the last two years at Bennington, I have learned a lot about how to deal, and a lot of it I wish I had known going in. So for all the little freshman out there, particularly the little freshman at Bennington, I am handing you my hard-won wisdom in the hopes that you’ll get to a better place faster.
1. It is possible to go an entire term without any all-nighters. And to make it to every meal. And to not get so sick that you want to fake your own death so that you don’t have to deal with this crap anymore.
My first year at community college/senior year of high school, I made myself sick from all-nighters. I had not yet grasped the concept of time-management, which ended up with me getting no sleep up to 3 nights every week. At about 4 in the morning, my personality would split and have the following conversation: “Meg. It’s ok. You’re doing so well.” “So tired. Poem. What? Tequitos?” “Shh, it’s going to be ok. Let’s go make some tequitos and tea. We’re just going to get up very slowly, put the tequitos in the microwave, and everything will feel better.” “Ok. Foot. Tequitos. Poem. Feel better.”
Five years later, I go to a school where we don’t have extracurriculars because a) we like to make them up ourselves and b) we just don’t have that kind of time. And I still get at least 6 hours of sleep every night, even during finals. This is definitely not a typical scenario, but the stress I put on my body during my first couple years of college exacerbated my congenital heart condition; a year and a half after I graduated from high school, I had to get my pulmonary valve replaced. Now, I try to be kinder to my body. I eat a lot of garlic (so good for your immune system), drink a lot of echinacea tea (sickness is terrified of echinacea), work hard when I’m working, and take breaks when I need them. I organize my time, I make lists, I eat my vegetables.
It really all just comes down to: eat your vegetables, get some sleep, and don’t be a dumb ass about how you manage your time. College really is different from high school. There’s no way around it. You will suffer as you figure it all out, but you don’t have to get sick in the process. I have seen a lot of intelligent people screw up their bodies and their brains by not sleeping, not eating (or eating a lot of nasty junk), and abusing prescription drugs like adderall to get through their work. This is so unnecessary, and you have no excuse for treating your mind/body (SAME THING) like a garbage disposal for sodium and death. Steer clear of the adderall and take a five hour nap if you really want to get things done.
2. Figure out your limits.
I know now that my first year at Bennington was really all about figuring out my limits. My time at Pierce College and Montgomery College had been about testing my limits; how many Smithsonian internships could I fit into a year? Would the women’s studies department let me get away with doing an independent study on the American cultural history of menstruation? How many friends could I make by eating lunch with the smokers and potheads? (The answers: two, yes, and quite a few.) But Bennington has been all about realizing when and if I want to say no. Had I known that at the time, I might have spent more time consciously working them out so that some limits might not have taken so long.
It only took one term to figure out my limit for drinking; I know now how much is too much and how often is too often. It took me three terms to figure out how much toxicity in a friendship I can handle before I decide to let it go. Three terms to realize that no matter how hard I push the limits of what I study at Bennington, my Plan committee is There For Me and will do their best to help me learn what I need to learn. Four terms to figure out how much of myself I want to give to friendships that are never going to give as much back. Four terms to understand that trivializing my accomplishments is sometimes ok to keep hubris in check, but mostly needs a limit to prevent emotional suicide. One term to realize there is no limit to the amount of rice crispy treats you should smuggle out of the dining hall on hot dog day.
We all have different limits, but as you subject yourself to one of the most raw and exciting times of your life, just be aware that there are limits to be found.
3. That grade doesn't always mean what you think it means.
At Bennington, you actually have to request grades if you want them. Otherwise, it’s a pass/fail system. How well we do is based on our faculty evaluations. I grew up getting straight As; I only ever had one B, and that was for an Italian class I took at a community college when I was 14, so I figured getting a B on a college level course when I was barely out of middle school was actually pretty ok. My first spring at Bennington, I got an essay back from my faculty advisor with a big fat B, aka "epic fail" written on it. As I walked back home and reluctantly read her comments, I realized that next to all the criticism were suggestions for how I could do better next time. This can’t have been the first time a professor made encouraging suggestions instead of just listing why I didn’t get an A, but it was the first time in my life that I didn’t see my mistakes as personal failings; they were just part of the process in fully understanding the material. I realized that my whole life, my entire self-worth as a student was based on whether or not I got an A. Not on what I actually learned.
It sounds really simple, but I never understood until then that you have to make a mess of stuff before you can make something beautiful out of it, and that letter grades are wholly incapable of expressing the intricacies of this process. I am telling you the truth when I say that at first, everything is going to be hard and you are going to be criticized more than you will be praised. In the end, whatever grade you get can never fully reflect whether or not you learned to utilize that criticism and take it in stride; whether you learned the material, and didn’t just memorize it long enough to survive the term; and whether you tried to connect what you were learning with your bigger academic and personal picture. I have received a lot of As for classes that I put minimal effort into, and got very little out of. But the one C I got was for a class that changed my life; that C reflects only the confusion of my essays as I tried to process everything I was learning; it doesn’t reflect how hard I worked, how frequently I met with the professor to get help with my work, what I actually learned, or how I am still using what I learned in that class in my everyday life and work. The only thing that C really tells you that my mid-term essay was really badly organized and the rest of my grade suffered because of that one paper. (Also, there were only two major essays assigned in that course, which doesn’t really help a girl out when it comes to grade percentages.) So, when I send my transcript to grad schools or employers after I graduate, unless they also read my course evaluations, all they’re going to know about me is whatever tiny bit of information my letter grades can tell them. Sometimes an A doesn’t mean you were spectacular. Sometimes it just means that you’re good at memorizing stuff and that you showed up.
My biggest advice to you is to not measure the success of your education by your letter grades or awards. Ultimately, those things don’t mean much if you can’t actually use the knowledge they represent to improve your field. If you really want to get something out of your education, measure it by how hard you work, by how much you learn, and by how you use the criticism of others to improve.
In short: Get some sleep. Set some limits. Learn what you can. Regret very little.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Today the Guardian published this article about the illicit antiquities trade, particularly the trade coming out of Egypt. Larry Rothfield has already shared his opinion on this article and, as with most things Larry Rothfield says, I agree with him entirely. I would like to add that we shouldn’t just be focusing on Middle Eastern antiquities, but on artifacts from basically EVERYWHERE. Looting in the Middle East is definitely a problem, but it is also a problem in South America and Asia as well. It’s a worldwide issue and it should be discussed that way. Additionally, though I am glad the Guardian is giving these issues some much-needed media attention, the same part of me that still can’t get over the Harry Potter movies not being exactly like the books also cannot get over the Indiana Jones reference in the first fricking sentence of this article.
I’m sure this has been ranted about before, but my reasons for ranting about Indiana Jones right now are twofold. First, I’m getting tired of the reference. Second, using this reference to describe big events in combatting the illicit antiquities trade makes the entire thing sound like a novelty or adventure, something that is harmful but not very harmful to people. This is not only a wildly inaccurate perception of the trade, but it is just as potent a lie as any Marion True ever told.
For the record, the first and third Indiana Jones movies are two of my favorite films ever. I used to study film. I love good films. These are good films. Harrison Ford has enough swagger for three men. Love him. But the way Indiana Jones does archaeology is not one of those lessons you should be taking with you outside your screening of the film. Kind of like how anything Captain Jack Sparrow does is fun but not something you should mimic in real life, even for laughs, because people will not want to hang out with you if you do. Let me break it down for you: Indiana Jones has a pretty old-school idea of how history should be preserved. Like, 19th century old school. He and Napoleon have a similarly shoddy approach to preservation, and share a similarly destructive mindset that individuals have the right to singlehandedly obtain “museum-quality” pieces for the Western world to admire. In the process of obtaining these pieces, whole worlds full of ancient history are destroyed in the process. To put it lightly, this approach is no longer widely accepted to be valid by the academic community.
Consequently, comparing the illicit antiquities trade to a popular film that glamorizes art crime and a very unorthodox method of archaeology undermines just how important it is for the public to consider the illicit antiquities trade the same way they consider other similar criminal enterprises, such as the sex trade or the hard drugs trade. When the FBI busts a meth lab, we don’t compare that to an episode of Numb3rs or Bones. We don’t make it sound fun or adventurous or out of the ordinary. And we don’t refer to the meth as treasure. Artifacts are not treasure. This is not Pirates of the Carribbean. This is real life and real people’s cultural property being ripped up and peddled as discreetly, dangerously, and unethically as cocaine or child porn. Allowing people to think of archaeologists, art crime law enforcement officials, or cultural heritage specialists the same way they think of their favorite swashbuckling archaeologist hero is as backward and dangerous as keeping these issues out of textbooks, allowing museums to withhold provenance details, and allowing collectors to donate all their stolen cultural material for a hefty tax break. It’s not fun. It’s not treasure. It is our human history, and it’s being crushed right in front of you.