Saturday, December 31, 2011

Japanese tycoon donates a boatload to restore Italian pyramid

Yuzo Yagi, the owner of Yagi Tsusho Limited, has agreed to donate one million euros to restore a 2,000-year-old marble pyramid in Rome. The monument (inspired by the rage for all things Egypt) was a burial chamber for Roman magistrate, Gaius Cestius. This bit of generosity from the business sector follows Diego Della Valle's (founder of the Tod's shoe business) 22 million euro restoration of the Colosseum which begins in March. Apparently, Mr. Yagi has had business connections with Italy for more than 40 years and is funding the restoration of this monument to commemorate his links with Rome.

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

Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities opens hotline.

Via Egyptology News, it looks like the new Minister of Antiquities is already pushing out the memory of Hawass and doing his best to get the Egyptian people involved in preserving their region's history. Ahram Online reports:
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

Ryan Gosling Meme Guide. Really.

I'm not even into Ryan Gosling. I guess he's attractive, objectively speaking. But after finding these history related memes devoted to him, I'll concede that he's a legit babe. Even if you don't want to jump his bones, you have to admit, he's suddenly made museum studies and art history much more relatable to a general audience. For your convenience, my favorites:

Featured Blog: the Center for the Future of Museums

I'm going to do this new thing where I show you the blogs that I find the most useful and make it a point to keep up with, even when I'm too busy to blog myself. I think it's appropriate that the first be AAM's Center for the Future of Museums blog. CFM is a think tank and research/design lab that guides museums in exploring the cultural, political, and economic challenges facing society and helps them "transcend traditional boundaries to serve society in new ways." Right on. Written by founding director Elizabeth Merritt, the blog has an educative (but definitely not condescending) approach that combines commentary, news, and, how shall I say, museum studies guides that are always impressively on the pulse of such an interdisciplinary area. I always feel a little more savvy after reading. I particularly recommend their Twitter recommendations.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The "Shipwrecked" controversy sails in a totally different direction and also I told you so.

On December 8 and 9th, an advisory committee assembled by the Smithsonian met to discuss whether or not the exhibition "Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds" would be shown at the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery. By lunch on the first day, it was decided that the exhibition won't go up. Instead, the Smithsonian jumped on the idea of re-excavating the Belitung shipwreck and creating an exhibition from those findings.


I don't think anyone who has been following this controversy could be any more surprised. Or, in my case, stupid with delight. Since I first started reading about it in April, I saw this case as a real tipping point in how museums approach unscientifically excavated and unprovenanced artifacts. I was supportive of the Sackler putting on the exhibition if it meant that it would educate the public on the ethics behind archaeology vs. commercial salvaging vs. looting and the complicated relationships between all three in Southeast Asia. But regardless of what side you're on, I don't think anyone ever considered this kind of alternative. I'm hoping aggressively that everyone's surprise at the resolution to this complicated and messy debate has highlighted just how stubbornly unyielding and uncreative we've all been about which way this thing, and all things like it, should go. We have ALL been so busy figuring out if we should go right or left that we never stopped to consider that we could go back

Now, without going right or left at all, this unexpected move is even more of a game changer than I anticipated. Not to get all this-I-what-I-learned-this-term, but this kind of situation is what mediators call "filling a vacuum".

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It Could Happen To You: Provenance mysteries in rural Vermont.

I'm young, I guess, so things still surprise me sometimes. For example, I know logically that when you make something a big chunk of your life, it is obviously going to take up a big chunk of you life. But hearing about my fellow bloggers receiving death threats, needing to ask a fellow student about the human skull staring at me from their shelf, and emailing my school administration to ask for details on the mysterious and legit-looking Buddha bust displayed in a school hallway with no label are not things I expected to be a part of this chunk. Maybe I'm just more sensitive to them now in a way that I wasn't pre-chunk, but in the last few months I encountered two particular issues that prove this isn't just for museums.

This first was an acquisition made by a person I know at school.

Monday, December 12, 2011


I know I already did the whole, "I'm back, I promise, sorry for the silence" post back in October, but I really mean it now. I'm back. I promise. Though, I'm not that sorry for the silence because in the last month and a half that I've been MIA, I've been learning new social, political, and media tools that have revolutionized my perspective on cultural heritage issues. This past term was, in a word, bitchin', and I am incredibly excited to bring what I've learned from my work to this blog. I was particularly affected by my conflict mediation course with dancer and mediator Susan Sgorbati, so in the next few months, you can expect to see more emphasis on problem-solving and conflict resolution in approaching cultural heritage issues. Also, there will be updates to the Books and Resources pages, as well as a a brand new Internship Guide.

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

In Response

This past week, there has been a more than usual number of comments (the usual being zero) on a post in which I gave a brief update on the state of my senior work at Bennington. These comments expressed, shall I say, a strong interest in the direction of my research on the “Shipwrecked” controversy at the Smithsonian. Many of them were critical of points that I hadn’t even written about or expounded upon in my post. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t bother addressing such badly spelled confrontations, but Marcie, the only one in the debate to not hide behind the Anonymous title (thank you, Marcie!), asked me to step away from the debate over the Shipwrecked exhibition at the Smithsonian and continue to write about other cultural heritage issues. Because she signed herself as an avid follower (which made me excited), I feel compelled to address this directly.

Article on coin collecting and Bulgaria

Last week, Dr. Nathan Elkins very kindly shared with me his article on the problems of the coin trade in the U.S. and how it affects Bulgaria. It has been very helpful to me in drafting my letter to CPAC in favor of the MOU with Bulgaria and Belize, and I encourage you all to check it out!

Monday, October 24, 2011

TYCTB (acronym, uh oh) featured in FiWeBelize Daily!

Thanks to FiWeBelize Daily for featuring my post on the Belize/Bulgaria MoU in their Society section!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Student, blogger, RECORDING ARTIST

This term, my roommate/bestie is taking a studio recording course, and her first major assignment was to do an exact cover of a song. She chose to do The B-52's Mesopotamia, and she had me and our friend Sam sing for her. I am so excited about it that I'm uploading a not quite finished version for you all to hear, because it is SO GOOD. This is probably the closest she and I will ever get to collaborating in our very separate fields. Thanks so much to Riley for involving me in something so productive and cool that didn't involve me eating cheese in my pajamas while bitching about looting in Bulgaria.

The original version:

Our cover!:

Mesopotamia Cover by mouthyheritage

I MoU, you MoU, we all MoU for Belize and Bulgaria

On November 15-17, the State Department's Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) will meet to consider creating Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with the Republics of Belize and Bulgaria. For those of you who don't know, an MoU is a bilaterial agreement between states to prevent illegally acquired cultural property from one country in entering another country. Essentially, it's an agreement by the United States to restrict the import of undocumented archaeological objects, which is something they should just be doing anyway. Both Belize and Bulgaria have requested this agreement with the United States, and now, amazingly, you have an opportunity to show your support. 

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; 

(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. 
Paul Barford has provided a how-to guide in understanding the issues involved and how to craft your support letters. 
You should also check out these articles by David O'Shea (that I found via David Gill) on the looting going on in Bulgaria: 
THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT. I know it's a lot of information, and I seriously just spent my evening reading all these articles, .pdfs, and holy crap this chapter on organized crime in Bulgaria trying to understand everything I can about this process, but it's not often that we're ALL given the opportunity to lend our voices to the creation of these laws. Please, take some time to write a little something something to help save the world's history from disappearing completely. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I'm back. I hope.

I am a little bit horrified that it’s been so long since my last post, and am slightly nauseated by how overwhelming it is to come back. For the past seven weeks, I have basically had my illicit antiquities trade news ticker on pause so that I can analyze all the little details of a few particular cases. This stuff is my life, so much so that I have managed to incorporate it into almost every single one of my courses. So, coming back to the blogroll and realizing that I’ve actually been missing everything was, in a word, overwhelming.
This has been my best term yet academically. I never imagined that I would measure academic excellence by routinely becoming confused in class because something we’re discussing is about something I already talked about in another class and the links between the two blow my mind. Between discussing memory as a social construct as applied to conflict and art and figuring out that the swarm of fruit flies plaguing my room were hiding in my bamboo plant and not, as I had initially assumed, in a two-day old mug of wine, my mind is just suffering one explosion of insight after the next.
This is particularly true for all things related to the illicit antiquities trade, conflict, activism, internet activism, blogging, ALL OF IT. The problem with my education right now is that there is too much of it and I don’t have any time to blog about the amazing connections I’m making between fields as I’m making them because there are more connections to be made before very important deadlines and it all turns into a big, knotted, twisty, crazy, complex ball of insight that becomes too much of a thing in itself for me to deconstruct it. At least, not in the couple hours I’ve given myself to blog. So, I’m just going to list some bullets of the most important parts of this knotty learning mess before more come rushing in.

  • 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

Sarcastic Art History Students

I'm not entirely sure how Sarcastic Art History Students got past me for so long, especially because one of the creators is my friend/housemate/fellow blogger, but I'm glad I'm finally "hip" and stuff again because this is CRAY CRAY FUNNAY.

Seriously, though, go check out their blog because they have some genuinely intelligent background info on all the works and also no one is this funny about these things.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I went pro, yo.

In addition to this blog, I now also write for Bennington's student blog, Tapped In. Before this week, I could call myself a professional blogger only in the sense that if I make one cent a day from my ad revenue, I'll get my $5 check from Adbrite in about a year and a half. Now, I'm feeling slightly more legit. Be sure to check out Tapped In if you're interested in how we design our own curriculum at Bennington, or if you just want to see examples of the work some amazing young people are doing here!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bennington's Center for the Advancement of Public Action opens this weekend!

At Bennington, we have a strong focus on building our concentrations around a core of social responsibility and public action. This weekend, we are finally having the grand opening of our Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA), which is designed to give us the tools to incorporate the philosophy and technology of public action into our education and careers. How I approach my own work, particularly this blog, has a lot to do with the philosophy that CAPA endorses. The celebration for the opening, which starts today and ends on Sunday, has a really exciting schedule of people talking and workshopping. I will be covering some of the events both here, on the Bennington Tapped In blog, and on Twitter. You can find the whole schedule of events here, and I really recommend that you check it out. I am particularly excited to attend The Power of Infographics: How to Turn An Overwhelming Amount of Data into Meaningful Information, conducted by designer Gong Szeto.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Harvard Crimson Makes My Day

Today, the Harvard Crimson published this piece in their opinion section imploring Harvard and others to be more open to repatriating art objects. Harvard recently dodged a repatriation bullet after federal judge George O'Toole Jr. ruled that an Iranian group representing terrorist victims had no right to seize Persian artifacts from Harvard's Peabody Museum and the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. However, despite the Crimson's agreement with this ruling, they express concern that rulings such as this will reinforce Western institutions' belief in their right to keep the rest of the world's cultural heritage firmly in the West.
"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

I should probably stop referencing this movie.

You guyz, I just think you should be aware that this song tackles ethnocentrism, racism, colonialism, and environmentalism, and all really movingly. If only singing this song at dealers and collectors was as effective as it is for the freely adapted Disney version of John Smith...

The Getty returns two objects to Greece

On Tuesday, the Getty Museum agreed to return two objects in their collection to Greece and formalized a cultural agreement that will lead to loans, joint research, and other collaborations. Yay for cooperation and collaboration, right? The funny part is, Greece did not ask for these objects back and the objects do not show clear signs of being looted. I suggest you read about it in full detail from the Chasing Aphrodite blog, which is as suspicious as I am about what exactly is going on in this show of good will and international hand shaking, something Jim Cuno was really peeved by before he took his new job as Getty CEO. It's great that the Getty is being proactive about taking responsibility for questionable items in their collection, but something about it feels slightly off to me.

What's your game, Cuno?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Illicit Antiquities Trade as Conflict vs. Issue = Scary Stuff

Occasionally, I have these little bursts of insight where my mind shifts to one side and there is a pleasant clicking noise that indicates successful thought process activity. Much of the time, these are really obvious insights that I lump into the major Duh category and don’t share with anyone because it seems so embarrassingly obvious a realization. I had one of these moments a while ago in my mediation course, where my perception of the illicit antiquities trade shifted from being an issue to being a conflict. It seems like the stupidest and smallest shift in perception, because duh it’s a conflict, but increasingly I’ve felt that it is an essential distinction to make. 
Generally, I think, we all describe the trade as an issue, the same way we describe global warming or child soldiers as issues that need our time, attention, and resources to overcome. It’s a word that carries some preconceptions about how one approaches the subject in question. When someone tells me that whale hunting is an issue they care about, I assume that their primary method of addressing that issue is through activism. Very generally speaking, issue = activism in most of our minds, which is a very specific form of response to a problem. Of course, all the issues I just mentioned are also conflicts, but I feel that the distinction is particularly important to make when discussing the trade because, as we know from every Indiana Jones reference ever, it’s not taken very seriously by many to begin with. But the illicit antiquities trade is not just an issue the way global warming is an issue; it’s an intractable conflict the same way the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is an intractable conflict, which is to say it is long-standing, has eluded resolution, appears impossible to solve, and has threatened the safety of those involved.
This was a little too apparent earlier this week when Paul Barford shut down his blog temporarily  while the police investigate threats made against him and his family by a British metal detectorist. He received word that there was an attack planned against the blog, and so took it offline for a while to avoid four years of work being compromised. (It should be back in a couple weeks.) After reading so many books about the trade and the scandals that have occurred in this field, I suppose I was lulled into a false sense of security about where exactly this conflict is taking place and who is affected by it. The most obvious risks that present themselves in the literature are things like being confronted by looters with automatic weapons or getting in the way of a dealer or collector. The truth is that choosing to write publicly and unapologetically about this conflict is a risk in itself. Paul is not the only high-profile blogger in this field to receive threats. One blogger that he mentioned has even been threatened by the Italian Mafia, in addition to receiving unpleasant things from dealers and lawyers of auction houses. Suddenly, this little old blog of mine does not seem like it’s in quite the same category as joining protests in front of state capitol buildings for more environmentally friendly laws to be passed. It’s beginning to feel more like sitting in a redwood and peeing in a bucket while the chainsaws idle below you. (Maybe an exaggeration, but you get my point?)
Not only would a change in the terminology we use to describe the illicit antiquities trade more fully communicate the urgency and danger that is at the core of the trade and the battle against it, it might also help us reframe the trade in our own minds. Perhaps then we might focus more intently on seeing it as something to resolve, rather than as something to abolish or as an enemy to destroy. Of course it won’t be easy or quick, but by our individual efforts to find and fix the many flaws in this system, it could be possible for us to slowly but surely replace the need for the trade with new possibilities for education and economic gain.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Anthropology Major Fox = YES

Am I a late arrival on this Anthropology Fox train? I think maybe that, for the internet, finding something in September that was created in March might be really freaking late. I don't know. What I do know is that I am very grateful to Savage Minds for blogging about this tumblr because I CAN'T STOP LAUGHING AT ALL THE TRUTH IN HERE.

Seriously though, I really am going to start blogging like a serious person again. I promise.

Things You Can't Take Back featured in ArchaeoinAction!

Yesterday, Things You Can't Take Back was featured in ArchaeoinAction, under Arts and Entertainment!

Thanks for the shout out!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Leonardo Patterson. Ha. Haha.

Last week at my art history tutorial, my professor mentioned that he was acquaintances with a man named Leonardo Patterson back when he lived in California. Somehow, his wife's curator ex-husband was associated with Patterson, so they had met a few times and found him memorable mostly because he had something to do with antiquities and he or his lady friend had a pet lemur or exotic cat or something. Yesterday, my professor asked me if I had looked up Leo. I had forgotten, and he said, "Well, I did, and I found a lot of interesting stuff." And then he spent the next fifteen minutes talking about the Barnes Foundation.

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: "Leonardo Patterson started trading Precolumbian antiquities in New York during the late 1960s. He first came to public attention in 1984 when he was arrested and charged with fraud for attempting to sell a forged Mayan fresco to Boston collector Wayne Anderson (Nagin 1984). Patterson had been asking $250,000 for the piece, which was accompanied by two photocopied letters of authentication from Donald Hales and Paul Clifford. One year later, in 1985, he was arrested at Dallas-Fort Worth airport and charged with illegally-importing into the USA a Precolumbian figurine and 36 sea turtle eggs. In 1995 he was in the news for supplying a European collector with a bronze Precolumbian brazier that was subsequently recognized to have been smuggled out of Mexico or Guatemala (Honan 1995). In response to a New York Times enquiry, Patterson’s lawyer stated that the brazier had been in Patterson’s possession for almost 30 years."

From the BBC: "Mr Patterson, 66, maintains he has done nothing wrong and says he assembled the collection legally from several other collectors. "All of that stuff, I got it in Europe. I don't traffic pieces," he told the AP."

I think maybe "interesting stuff" is KIND OF AN UNDERSTATEMENT.

Free access to Maney Archaeology and Heritage Journals!

I saw from ThenDig that Maney Publishing is offering a free 30-day trial of journals in their Archaeology and Heritage collection. As if I wasn't already on a high from ordering books from the interlibrary loan for my senior project, now I get free journal articles too? THIS IS A GOOD WEEK. Student peoples, check it out if you need sources for your work, if you need inspiration for something to write about, or if you're just interested. Free access to journals is RARE so take advantage now before the offer ends.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

This is what happiness looks like.

I'm finally getting all the dozens of books that I've requested from the interlibrary loan for my senior project. Color me EXCITED.

SAFE announces Beacon Awards recipient

Congratulations to Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino, authors of Chasing Aphrodite, who have received the SAFE Beacon Award for 2011, and to David Gill, professor at Swansea University and blogger at Looting Matters, who received the award for 2012! Every year, Saving Antiquities For Everyone honors someone who has made a significant contribution to educating people about and fighting against the illicit antiquities trade. I wholeheartedly agree with SAFE's choices for this year and next; Chasing Aphrodite is critical for you to read if you're the least bit interested in these issues, and David Gill's blog is one of my go-to sources for commentary and news on the trade. Congratulations to all three of you!

Monday, September 5, 2011

You should be reading Gradhacker

Gradhacker might primarily be a blog for helping grad students survive grad school, but just about every article in it is critical reading for undergrads as well. How To Read A Book probably changed my whole senior year, and Book Review: Getting Things Done - David Allen just revolutionized how I'll be working from now on. I really, really suggest going through this blog and its archives if you want to get some truly quality advice on how to work better and learn faster.

This Fall is My Favorite

Classes began at Bennington last week, proving both exciting and nauseating. Often within the same five minutes. It hasn’t even been a full week of courses yet and I’ve already read about 400 pages of assigned readings, bitched about how un-Bennington it is for visiting faculty to have less-than-acceptable amounts of respect for their students (because this is our WORK, not just that drunk space between high school and real life), and been asked to describe the primary positions in the debate on cultural/art objects and their function/meaning in museums/archaeology. PIECE OF CAKE.
This term, I tailor-made my course load to support my senior work and prepare for graduate school. My courses are so utterly and perfectly in line with my focus on cultural heritage issues that I almost want to laugh/cry/eat in happiness. If you don’t go to Bennington for theater, music, or literature, it can sometimes be difficult to find courses that support exactly what you want to do or the ideas you want to explore. We’re known for concentrating in really obscure or abstract areas, but even the illicit antiquities trade is kind of a reach for Bennington. So this term is a particularly miraculous blending of disciplines and questions that all relate to what I want to do and how I want to do it. For those of us who don’t go to schools with cultural heritage opportunities or programs for undergrad students, these are the kinds of disciplines and courses I would recommend to students who plan on pursuing cultural heritage professionally. A few I’m taking this term:
Anthropology of Art: Taught by anthropologist Miroslava Prazak, this class explores how peoples of diverse world cultures creature, use, manipulate, conceptualize, exchange, and evaluate objects of material culture. This course will tackle the anthropological concept of culture, the commercialization of the arts, the role of museums as receptacle for arts and cultural history, and questions of aesthetics. No offense to all my other courses, but this is already my favorite. Not only is this everything I want to study stuffed into one class, but Mirka is one of my  favorite professors and the people in it are all pretty quality individuals.
Solving the Impossible: Intractable Conflict: This course, taught by dancer and mediator Susan Sgorbati, explores the anatomy of so called “intractable” conflicts and how to approach them non-violently. I am so jazzed to look at the illicit antiquities through the lens of this course. It is a distinct and heady emotion. I am not kidding.
International Relations: Theory and Practice: This is just a survey IR course, but it’s going to supplement my senior work pretty critically.
Art history tutorial: I’m in a 2-credit tutorial with two other students as we research and plan our senior work in art history. I am so excited about this that I already requested like 20 books on museum studies and cultural property from the interlibrary loan.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Help Vermont!

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.

If you are financially able, I urge you to donate to the Vermont Food Bank. Just text "FOODNOW" to 52000 to donate $10.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

In Which I Challenge Walter Olson's Dubious Premise

Yesterday, the San Francisco Examiner featured an Op Ed by Walter Olson, editor of, 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.

Get Some Sleep, or How I Learned To Stop Caffeinating and Survive Higher Education

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

Emory University's museum refuses to disclose information on Joseph Lewis Egyptian antiquities

CultureGrrl just posted about yet more drama in the saga over Joseph Lewis, the collector who was indicated along with three other men in smuggling and selling/buying antiquities. Lee Rosenbaum has been investigating the various museums who have accepted pieces from Lewis, particularly the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts , both of which accepted loaned pieces. However, Emory University's Michael C. Carlos Museum has nineteen objects in their permanent collection that were donated by Lewis. Most of them are on view in their Egyptian galleries. When pressed for more information about these objects and what course of action the museum would be taking considering the investigation underway, the museum's spokesperson refused to provide any more information. This refusal to provide information on the museum's permanent collection directly defies both the Association of Art Museum Directors' stance on museum transparency and the museum's own collecting guidelines.

This situation is particularly grave considering it IS a university museum. We have all come to expect (but not condone) this from big institutions like the MFA and the Met. But we should be particularly ruthless/bitchy in addressing the ethics of the illicit antiquities trade when we find it university museums as well, considering their even greater responsibility to use these objects for education (as opposed to the cop out of simple aesthetic appreciation favored by bigger museums.) I get the feeling that a lot of university/college museums often feel a sense of false security when it comes to antiquities; when I visited the Williams College Museum of Art with my archaeology class last term, we had a docent talk to us about their Assyrian reliefs from the Palace at Nimrud. Someone asked what the museum would do if Iraq asked for the pieces back. The lady hemmed and hawed. Our professor asked us what we think should happen, and I was like, "WELL, it'd be great if the museum just acknowledged that this is part of Iraq's patrimony and Iraq allowed an extended/permanent loan..." But the general feeling in the room was that of course Iraq wouldn't be asking for these pieces of wall back; they can barely manage what's still in the ground, let alone some slabs of wall in a far away New England college museum.

University museums should not feel safe from these issues. Just because they haven't suffered the press coverage and investigations that have targeted bigger public museums doesn't mean that day isn't coming. I hope the students and faculty at Emory University and the members of the Carlos Museum demand honesty, transparency, and ethical behavior from their museum this fall.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Media coverage + Indiana Jones = Rant

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.