Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Trafficking Culture website is live!

If you haven't already seen it, I am really excited to finally be able to share the website for the ERC-funded Trafficking Culture study at the University of Glasgow!

Even if I wasn't involved in this study (I'm in the People section and feeling like such a rock star), I would think this website is super beautiful and well-designed and incredibly exciting to explore. As a student, having so much access (for free!) to so much information that has been parsed and organized already is immensely exciting. This is the kind of thing that I wished I'd had when I first began studying these issues. The Encyclopedia (with one entry so far by yours truly and more on their way) is a goldmine of information on terms, looted sites, looted objects; the Publications page has a ton of free PDFs of articles and chapters written by the researchers and other related scholars (I've downloaded them all); and the Links section points you in the best possible directions for other sources and organizations to be aware of or get involved in. Bookmark it and explore! And if you're looking to do your PhD with a team this cool, you can shoot off a message and get that conversation started.

And don't forget to "Like" the Trafficking Culture Facebook and follow on Twitter.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

What to read when you're too busy to eat: My preferred cultural heritage news sources

It seems that every time I go away to have some kind of vacation (and by “vacation” I mean scrambling around and doing a lot of paperwork, preparation, and packing for my impending move to Glasgow) there is a some kind of scandal that I should be covering but can’t. Over the last two years of writing here, I’ve always had grand aspirations about being able to update daily and be on top of every bit of news. But if I’m being honest with myself, that only happens for like two weeks during the summer when I have the time and the inclination. The rest of the academic year, this blog is just one of many things in life that sits on the sliding scale of priorities. Coming to grips with that as I move into unknown grad-school-schedule territory has required reconsidering how I want to approach the issues here and how often.

But until I’m able to hold myself to a more regular blogging schedule, I want to share the sources that I rely on to stay in touch with these issues when I’m not able to write about them. I’ve divided them up roughly by how many places on the internet you can find them so you, too, know where to turn when Facebook or Twitter is all you have time for.

Found just about everywhere:

Chasing Aphrodite
I’m not just a big fan of the award-winning book of the same name, but also of the blog, Facebook, and Twitter pages that journalist/author Jason Felch keeps active on a weekly basis. This is my top news resource in this area. All of Jason’s commentary, whether it’s a Facebook update or a blog post, has a really great mix of information and analysis, making for very informative as well as educational reading. It also helps that Jason doesn’t just share blog updates, but news articles from other sources as well, making it so handy to stay in touch when Facebook is the only social media I have time to browse.

Cultural Security
Cultural Security, a team effort by Erik Nemeth, Joshua Mix, and Yasmeen Hussain, is an interdisciplinary initiative that uses the social sciences, technology, and life sciences to explore cultural heritage issues. The team runs a websiteblog, Twitter, and Tumblr, all of which serves a slightly different purpose and is informative in different ways. I’m a big fan of the news articles they provide on their Tumblr, which makes it very easy to stay up to date when I’m scrolling through my own gif-dominated feed. I also turn to their blog quite often, which offers a weekly break-down of the issues.

Found some places:

Archaeological News
This Tumblr/Twitter combo features all kinds of archaeology-related news, even headlines that fall more on the cultural heritage issue side of things. It’s updated super frequently, making it impossible to miss anything too important if you’re on one of the two platforms.

The Archaeology News Network
This is a non-profit daily online newspaper featuring news related to archaeology, anthropology, and paleontology. They’re required reading on Twitter, and have a fancy website too.

Found mostly just the one place:

Looting Matters
Prof. David Gill is one of the lead archaeologists and researchers covering cultural heritage issues online. He blogs very frequently and generally keeps things succinct, outlining the important facts of cases and asking (but often not answering) big questions about the process of the case or how it will affect other issues. Required reading and a great way to get the gist of everything that’s going on when you’ve been away from it for a while.

Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire
Rick St. Hilaire is one of the best known cultural heritage lawyers, and his blog is one of the first I turn to when I’m ready for more than a summary understanding of the current issues. His posts offer very in-depth coverage of current cases and are fantastic for catching up when everyone’s like “OMG Cleveland Museum!” and you’re like “What about it?”

Friday, August 17, 2012

Need an internship this fall? Apply to the Sustainable Preservation Initiative!

Great news for undergrads looking for something other than coursework to get some experience this fall: the Sustainable Preservation Initiative is looking for interns! This is a really fabulous opportunity for any students looking to get their toes wet in the cultural heritage field. I'm personally a big fan of SPI not just because they have great principles, but because the work they do has a discernible impact. In this field, discernible impacts that help communities and preserve cultural heritage are too few and far between. This is an excellent opportunity for students to get experience with an organization employing simple methods with positive results. Also, those are some real nice people they have at SPI, you want to be a part of that.

From my friend at SPI, Rebekah Junkermeier:

"Interested in saving the world’s cultural heritage? Want to transform local communities while doing it? So do we. The Sustainable Preservation Initiative (SPI) is a new non-profit whose mission is to save cultural heritage sites around the globe, but in an entirely new way: through local economic development.

Traditionally, preservation organizations will throw a bunch of money at a site, building large and expensive museums or visitor centers in an attempt to attract tourism and protect the site from looting and decay. Time and time again, however, this paradigm fails. The museums close, the visitor centers are empty, and the site isn't preserved and continues to be looted, often by the impoverished local community. We think the problem with this model is the point of focus: the people actually living in the area tend to be an afterthought, if that. To provide themselves and their families with the essentials, it's not uncommon for local residents to take stones and artifacts, grow crops, or graze livestock on the sites. To prevent these destructive practices, SPI creates jobs by investing in locally-created and -run businesses whose success is tied to the preservation of the site. Not only are lives in the community transformed, but the endangered archaeological sites are preserved in a completely sustainable way.

We currently have two projects in Peru, one at San Jose de Moro and one at Pampas Gramalote, and are hoping to expand to three more sites by the end of the year.

We are looking for smart, self-motivated individuals passionate about cultural heritage and economic development to assist with the following this fall:

·      Organizing traditional and online fundraising programs
·      Writing and reviewing grant applications and reports
·      Administrative work
·      SPI’s website, Facebook page, and other social media
·      Preparing presentation materials
·      Assisting the Executive Director

Join us in saving sites by transforming lives!

We are located in New York City, but remote (online) internship positions will be considered depending on the candidate.

Email Rebekah Junkermeier, Program and Development Associate at SPI, at with a cover letter and CV to apply!"

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The MFA's new acquisition of Benin artifacts proving to be a tricky bitch already

If I was the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which just received a gift of 34 rare Kingdom of Benin objects from the Robert Owen Lehman Collection, I would not have responded to the official request by Nigeria to have 32 of these artifacts repatriated with the veiled and tired excuse that they will reach a wider, more diverse audience in Boston than in Nigeria. I would not have tried to pacify them by describing how the collection will be installed in an exhibition that will discuss both the history of the individual objects as well as the history and culture of the Benin Kingdom. And I wouldn’t have capped it all off by throwing in the bonus of presenting the objects on the museum website and the hope that keeping the objects will “further opportunities for cultural exchange”.

Once again, the MFA is being, let’s just be frank, a tightfisted little bitch about the obviously looted objects in their collection. Let me break it down for you: In 1897, Rear-Admiral Harry Rawson was appointed by the British Admiralty to lead an expedition to capture the Benin king and destroy Benin City. Field commanders were instructed to burn down all Benin kingdom’s towns and villages and hang the king whenever and wherever he was captured. After the British secured the city, looting began in the monuments and palaces of high-ranking chiefs, as well as homes and religious buildings. 2,500 religious artifacts, Benin visual history, and artworks were exported to England. These objects were later auctioned off in Paris and held by the British Museum in London. The objects now in the possession of the Boston MFA were privately owned by Mr. Robert Owen Lehman. This donation is a big deal for the museum because until this acquisition, it had only one Benin object in its 20-year-old African collection. There are now plans to build a permanent gallery for the Lehman Collection.

That is, if the Nigerian government fails in its effort to have the artifacts repatriated. The MFA refusing to repatriate these Benin artifacts is disappointing for a number of reasons: 1) refusing Nigeria their cultural property that was so heartlessly taken in the midst of the death and destruction of their people, even if it was over 100 years ago, is not great for post-colonial PR; 2) you’d think that after problems like the Weary Herakles debacle, the MFA would have learned; and 3) every time a museum gets so tightfisted, it puts us all two steps back from the ideal many hope to see one day: that instead of these catty repatriation lawsuits, we will instead enjoy the generous and willful exchange of collections between countries and museums, and spend less time being concerned with ownership and economic value and more time educating, preserving, and respecting. This ideal has been described by many in the museum, archaeological, and cultural heritage communities, but it has been frustratingly slow to manifest in real life. Conflicts such as the one between Nigeria and the MFA only keep us in the mud of the mid-20th century encyclopedic museum dream.

If the MFA was at all interested in joining the rest of us here in the 21st century, it might begin by repatriating the objects to Nigeria and hammering out a deal for exchanges between our countries. Then it might consider taking the initiative and acknowledging fishy or limited provenance in the history of all its objects, not just the ones on trial, and make a whole-hearted effort to discover their true origins. Then it might acknowledge that many of the objects in their collection may still hold significance for living cultures and be less stingy when those cultures come forward and ask for repatriations. Then it might do a much better job of educating its public about art crime, the modern commercial exploitation of archaeological sites, and the past and present war time looting that scatters artifacts and attempts to destroy cultures and ideologies. But instead, it will continue to drag its feet and deny a formerly occupied country the right it has to its stolen heritage.

Don’t be that guy, MFA. Be brave.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Holes: Looting in Photos

Photo: Holly Pickett for the NYT
Having created and maintained this blog for a while in an effort to expose more college students to the illicit antiquities trade/cultural heritage issues in general, I can confidently tell you one thing about the whole process: it's damn tricky getting people to care sometimes. There are only so many times a young white person can insert "bitches be trippin'" into a rant about Jim Cuno or Timbuktu to get people's attention. I think, frankly, people don't care enough when I tell them thousands of looters are tearing up archaeological sites for merchandise every day because they don't know what that actually looks like, what it really means, or what it has to do with them.

So I decided to create an online photo collection of looting. Holes: Looting in Photos is an effort to bring together many images of looted archaeological sites and looted artifacts to more effectively present what our destroyed human past actually looks like. By displaying both the individual artifacts/sites alongside the repetition of countless holes, dug up bodies, and defaced stone, I hope to provide a different kind of resource for learning about looting, as well as a more meaningful comprehension of the overwhelming global scale. 

The kicker in this whole project is that I would like it to be a sort of collaborative, crowd-sourced deal. There are many photographers, journalists, and archaeologists who document the looted sites they see; it would be amazing to bring them all together in one place as a kind of testimony to what is happening to our human past for a global market. 

I've created a Flickr group pool for submissions, and a Flickr site to house the collection. Additionally, there is a whole Tumblr  dedicated to showcasing the project, and photos will be pinned to Pinterest as well. It's all pretty raw right now, but hopefully that will change with you! If you have any photos of looted sites or artifacts, submit them! Remember to have the name of the photographer, a caption including where it's from, and website or source from where the photo came.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Guest post on the ARCA blog!

Scoot on over to the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art blog, where you can read my newest post on my super dreamy experience at the very exciting annual ARCA conference last month.

They are great peoples, and they want more excitable young people who are into this stuff. Cough cough. Do it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The New York Times is asking all the wrong questions.

David Dewey with his
unsellable Yuan dynasty
Today the New York Times published a very telling article on the various problems that collectors, museums, and auction houses are facing now that guidelines for provenance are much stricter than in decades past. It does a fairly good job of outlining the various sides of the argument and quoting some of the best known voices for each (Kate Fitz Gibbon, Ricardo J. Elia, Neil Brodie, Arthur Houghton, Lawrence Rothfield, and Julian Raby, among others), but as an article, it very solidly reflects the perspective of object-centric collectors.

The big argument going on is that there are a lot of artifacts in the hands of private collectors that can’t be donated or sold because they don’t have a valid trail of paperwork documenting their every owner. Recent scandals over museums accepting donations of looted objects from collectors, whether they knew they were looted or not, has encouraged museums to stand more firmly by the no-objects-looted-after-1970 date set by the UNESCO convention, and discouraged collectors from even trying to donate or sell objects they bought 15 or 20 years ago.

This is indeed a problem. No one can quite agree on what to do with all these artifacts that have limited or no provenance, won’t be accepted by most academics or museums, and can’t be sold through the major auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Exhibiting them is often seen as condoning the trade, or at least demonstrating to looters and dealers that even though the deed is demonized, the exhibition justifies their actions. Not exhibiting them or letting them be sold, potentially to collectors that won’t share them with the public, also leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the concerned.

But even though this is a valid issue that does need to be considered, the better question that the New York Times should be asking is how the demand for the illicit antiquities trade should be approached and reevaluated. How do we get collectors to divert their money from the big, often illegal market to funding preservation, conservation, archaeology, and education instead? How do we replace the economic incentive for looting at the ground level with the economic incentive of building local museums, funding local archaeology, and finding sustainable ways to capitalize on local and regional heritage? How do we write and rewrite international and national policies so that they more effectively convict, punish, and prevent the white-collar criminals moving the trade in looted artifacts? This entire field is not so much an issue as it is a conflict, and as such the journalism reporting on this conflict has the responsibility to not just ask the post-war questions that affect only the pampered Western party. In my view, there are more important questions that need to be asked and answered before we begin to tackle the post-conflict issue of what to do with the “victim” artifacts.

Derek Fincham also has a great commentary on this article that points out the lack of emphasis on the major tax deductions that collectors get for donating to museums.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Some updates

In the pages section of the blog, you'll notice some swank new updates to the information and resources offered that I finally got in today. First, there is now an "About the Issues" section which offers a really concise overview of the core issues of the illicit antiquities trade and a simple outline of its structure. Pretty easy to share with a friend who isn't in the know about this stuff and maybe wants to be. Second, there is finally an Internship Guide for cultural heritage/art crime internships. However, it's pretty rough so far, so if you know of any organizations or individuals that offer work experience with things related to art crime, cultural heritage issues, historic preservation/conservation, and museums studies that emphasize transparency, let me know! You can email me at

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Featured Blog(s): Property of an Anonymous Swiss Collector and Grotesque Stone Idols

Two of my fave blogs lately are Property of an Anonymous Swiss Collector and Grotesque Stone Idols, both written by my friend and future colleague, Dr. Donna Yates. I am not just plugging Donna's blogs because she has been the number 1 diva in the club getting me through the super stressful process of flat hunting in a foreign country from across an ocean. Though that might be 20% of it. The other 80% has to do with how much I've been enjoying and learning from her blogs over the last few weeks. Donna recently got her PhD from Cambridge University in illicit antiquities research-related things, and is now one of the four happy souls leading the ERC-funded study on the trafficking of cultural property at the University of Glasgow. Her work is focused on South American antiquities and archaeology, and over the last few weeks her blogs have been published with exciting regularity on all manner of things from the origins of the word "huaquero" (the Spanish word for looter" to Peruvian-archaeology founder Julio C. Tello to the uh-oh search terms people are using when they stumble across her blog.

Donna's perspective as an academic is really interesting (to me, anyway) because she trained in the archaeology side of things, but leans more toward the heritage/policy camp. The mix of the two results in presenting the historical and present social contexts of these issues in a cocktail of old and new that can't help but reframe your perspective on certain issues. What really makes these blogs fun for me is the fact that Donna uses them to share things she herself has been researching, as opposed to them being a news source with your typical re-hashing of opinion. Additionally, her approach to outreach and education is consciously non-preachy in the hopes of educating those interested in buying artifacts, instead of alienating them through the more aggressive rhetoric that others have adopted. (This attitude is hard to perfect when emotions run so high in this field.) And bonus, it's fun to read. It can often be easy for knowledgable bloggers to fall into a pit of didactic dryness when they're on a roll, but Donna's posts are always a great blend of excited gushing and genuinely interesting information that make them an easy read. Especially in sea of blogs that, though useful and well-written and super interesting, mostly report the major bummers currently going on. No bummers here, man. Just really great blogging.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

This guy has licked every Anglican cathedral in England

I feel a little guilty that I'm not blogging about Timbuktu or looted-coin-collecting bad boy Dr. Arnold Peter Weiss, but am instead clamoring to tell you all about this guy that licked every Anglican cathedral in England on a bet. AND HE'S NOT DONE. In January 2011,  Lawrence Edmonds was challenged by his friend Adam to lick every Anglican cathedral in the United Kingdom. If he doesn't, he'll have to streak outside of York Minster. If he does, Adam will have to streak outside of York Minster. Initially, our cathedral licking hero was given five years to complete this task, which was then pared down to June 16th, 2012. Well. He has licked all 42 Anglican cathedrals in England and was given a six month extension to do the other 20 in the rest of the UK. He was even featured in The Sun and mentioned in the House of Lords. And you can read all about it and see all the licking glory on the official blog, Facebook, and on Twitter.

Edmonds, 26, an English Heritage worker, is careful to mention in his About page that he means no disrespect toward the Anglican Church and its followers, but hopes that his blog will help to promote the cathedrals of the UK, "many of which are currently suffering financially and need thousands of pounds a day just to keep their doors open." I don't think this is what any of us would have considered as a viable option in promoting some of the more expensive and endangered architecture of the UK, but I have to slow clap this guy and his friend for stumbling across it. Here's hoping that the spirit/form of it might catch on with other individuals and forms of architecture.

Now hoping I'll run into this cathedral-licking renegade around some of Glasgow's Anglican structures this fall.

Monday, July 2, 2012

What a good study looks like

We all knew from the start that the University of Glasgow study on the global trafficking of cultural property was going to be a big deal. But these folks are really outdoing themselves by keeping the public updated (to a certain extent) through their new social media. You can now follow the study, which is being led by Neil Brodie, Simon Mackenzie, Donna Yates, and Suzie Thomas, through their Facebook and Twitter pages. It seems a website will be following soon! It would be so interesting if more studies approached social media as a tool for educating the wider public and keeping people up to date in a sort of live-feed way on the process of their research.

Beyond excited to get to work with these people this year.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Big news!

Since my last post in March, life has been a whirlwind of thesis-writing, thesis-editing, unplanned grad school applications, social media neglect, undergraduate graduation, grad school rejection/acceptance, conference prep, and crazy weekend travel to Europe. Not coming back to blogging sooner partly has to do with temporarily forgetting how to write for non-thesis/presentation purposes, but mostly to do with the crazy number of events, landmarks, and decisions that have been packed into the last three months.

Per esempio, I am fairly ecstatic to tell people that this fall I will be pursuing my Master of Research in Criminology at the University of Glasgow. At the encouragement of Donna Yates, I applied for a PhD scholarship being offered in conjunction with the now famous University of Glasgow trafficking culture study. My humble expectation of being rejected wasn't entirely off; I didn't get the scholarship, but, to my honor and surprise, the selection committee thought my proposal was pretty cool and told me so. Simon Mackenzie sent me the best rejection letter of my life and invited me to do an MRes in Criminology with them before pursuing a PhD. 48 hours of feverish calculations later, I said yes. And not just because the opportunity was being handed to me/smacking me in the face and I realized that I could afford it.

If this opportunity had not arisen, I would most likely have spent the next year working a crap job, saving money, and applying to cultural heritage grad programs with the uneasy suspicion that someday, I would have to choose sides between archaeologists and museums. Because my work has increasingly focused on how to bring the two sides of academia together, choosing between the two is the last thing I want to do. Going the criminology route had not occurred to me until Simon suggested it, and in retrospect it seems kind of dumb. After letting the duh-ness of it sink it, this feels like the most natural and obvious direction for my research interests. Through criminology, I can approach the multi-party conflict over the illegal trafficking and display of looted artifacts from a much more neutral position and with a great deal more information about how to approach a multi-party conflict in the first place. Not only that, but the people I'll be working with at Glasgow are already super welcoming and supportive. Coming from a really small school where it's not uncommon to cry in front of/with your advisor and students and faculty are all on a first-name basis, it was important to me to find a program that would offer the same kind of one-on-one support and possibility for really meaningful scholarship and collaboration. Glasgow seems to have a close-knit, small-town-vibe despite being a big city uni, and I could not be mored excited about joining them this September!

But what does that mean for this blog? I have always intended Things You Can't Take Back to be primarily for college students finding their way into these issues, and me being a grad student won't change that goal. However, it will change how I approach that goal. Now that I'm graduated and have the benefit of hindsight as well as more sophisticated resources and connections, I hope to do a much better job of actually reaching college students and communicating the issues in a way that impassions them and encourages them to find a career in this field. Some changes and additions to the resources on this blog will be taking place over the next couple months, hopefully to find some equilibrium by the time I start going crazy again with school.

Keep an eye out this week for my perspective on the amazing time I had at the ARCA conference this past weekend!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Chasing Aphrodite authors propose WikiLoot, a crowd-sourced initiative to address the illicit antiquities trade

Polaroid seized from Giacomo Medici's warehouse
Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino, authors of Chasing Aphrodite, are two of the most tireless voices in the fight against the illicit antiquities trade right now. In addition to their fantastic book and their presence on Twitter and Facebook, they have just proposed WikiLoot, an entirely new initiative that, if successful, could revolutionize how we approach the illicit antiquities trade. The idea behind WikiLoot is that it would be an open source web platform for "the publication and analysis of a unique archive of primary source records and photographs documenting the illicit trade in looted antiquities." The wiki would use social media "and other tools" to bring together YOU plus a big network of experts (journalists, researchers, dilettantes, etc.) to collaborate on the analysis of a collection of photos of unpublished and missing artifacts that do not come from a known collection. Right now, Jason and Ralph are applying for funding, specially from the Knight Foundation, from which they've requested $250,000 to contribute to their $350,000 goal.

My own first impression of this is HOLY CRAP THIS IS WHAT WE'VE NEEDED ALL ALONG. One of the biggest problem with addressing the illicit antiquities trade has been the question of how to involve the general population. For such a global issue, the problem-solving has so far been limited to a relatively small network of police, academics, and lawmakers. Opening the problem-solving up to EVERYONE could be the kick in the pants that this fight really needs. However, there are admittedly a lot of issues that accompany this kind of proposal, so Jason and Ralph have created a Facebook group for people to discuss their questions, work out kinks, and come up with some creative ideas to make WikiLoot more than just a concept. The conversation itself is already super interesting; I don't know anywhere else on the internet right now where you can watch the experts/major reporters in this field (so far featuring Jason Felch, Larry Rothfield, David Gill, James Grimaldi) discuss together the pros and cons of an initiative like this. Read more about Jason's proposal on the Chasing Aphrodite blog, definitely "like" or comment on the proposal on the Knight Foundation Tumblr to help WikiLoot to get funded, AND join in the conversation on the WikiLoot open Facebook group!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dig Ventures' outside-the-box method to archaeology could revolutionize the economics of excavation

Dig Ventures, a British organization that provides "seed capital for archaeology projects worldwide", just launched a whole new kind of funding initiative that promises to change the way we think about funding archaeology and I can succinctly describe as "kick ass". In order to excavate Flag Fen in Cambridgeshire, England, a Bronze Age site that is being threatened by extensive drainage and climate change, Dig Ventures is using Sponsume, the European equivalent of Kickstarter, to reach out to the public for funding. The thing is, they're providing everyone with the incentive to back the project with the opportunity to be involved in the actual dig. £10 gets you "exclusive backstage access to daily content on our website in the 'Site Hut', a PDF of the final report, plus an invitation to our end of site party!" while contributing up to £1,300 or more gets you master classes and evening lectures.

The BBC just published an article today about the venture, in which Lisa Westcott Wilkins, the managing director of Dig Ventures, was quoted:
"Most of the archaeology outside of universities happens in advance of infrastructure or building, so when the market for that slows down, we don't get to dig very much," explained Mrs. Wilkins. "We've been thinking for a long time that things need to change, that there's not the kind of outreach that we feel really could be happening. There are lots of good people who are held back by the traditional way of doing things."
This crowd-sourced, crowd-funded approach to excavating important sites and engaging/educating the public in the process is, frankly, so brilliant that I think we all just want to shout, "DUH." This is an amazingly hands-on approach to a problem that all of us here in the States have been bitching about ever since we discovered that Spike TV and the National Geographic sold their souls for shows like "American Diggers" and "Diggers". Television programs like this are obviously very frustrating for archaeologists and individuals who love responsible archaeology. However, I think that on a quieter level, they have also sparked the realization that the archaeological community has not made the kind of aggressive motions they need to make in fixing a widespread misunderstanding of the ethical differences between responsible archaeology and treasure hunting. Pop culture and reality TV shows with "digger" in the title are just inflating this misunderstanding, and encouraging people to volunteer at professional digs is not proving to be enough incentive for the general public to support responsible archaeology. I see Dig Ventures project as a very clever way of addressing two big issues: first, it's a brilliant way of engaging and education people in archaeology. Second, it's a very creative way of getting funding in an economic environment that generally has little to no funding for archaeology. But I think there is a third, hidden advantage to this kind of initiative: it is a brilliant way of communicating the economic value of keeping heritage intact.

When people outside the archaeological community can see the cost of what it takes to excavate and preserve historical sites (versus what they might spend on a single artifact that was commercially exploited and illegally obtained), it might very effectively drive home the fact that it is cheaper, safer, and more productive to support archaeology and preservation than it is to engage in the illicit art market. The numbers of archaeology are not nearly so scary as the numbers behind the illegal sale of cultural property. £25,000 ($39,837.50) to excavate an entire Bronze Age site versus the $1 million paid by the Met for the Euphronius Krater? Not to mention all the jobs, training, and educational opportunities provided by a mere £25,000 excavation versus the asymmetrical distribution of money and incomplete information provided by a cool $1 mil for a single object without a reliable provenance? Bitch, please. These are the kinds of numbers that could mobilize people on the ground, not just in academia.

Good luck to Dig Ventures in achieving all they've set out to accomplish!

Monday, February 27, 2012

It's Museums Advocacy Day!

Today and tomorrow are Museums Advocacy Day, an event sponsored by the American Association of Museums and designed to advocate for policy and funding issues that affect museums in the United States. Today and tomorrow there will be events on Capitol Hill that you can watch here. However, if, like me, you're not able to make it out to D.C. to make an impact in person, there are other things you can do.

AAM's E-Advocacy page is mostly for museums, but no one's going to stop you from also writing to your representatives and making a fuss about it via Twitter (#museumsadvocacy) or Facebook or whatever. The point is, do something. If you're reading this blog, you probably already know (either consciously or at least deep down) that museums are the safe guards and celebrations of our shared heritage, both material and intangible. As Americans, we have a particular responsibility to make the protection and preservation of our museums a priority because of the vast number of cultural memories and identities they serve. So jot off a quick letter to your state representatives! For reference, here's what I wrote to Senator John Kerry (with some help from the letter guides provided by AAM):

Dear Senator Kerry,

As a constituent, I know that you are pulled in many, many directions and must make difficult decisions every day about how to meet the needs of people like me and our community. I recently learned, through the American Association of Museums, how important it is that I take a moment to express to you why museums are so special to me.

There was recently an article in the BBC about how lack of funding in Bosnia has affected museums. During wartimes, the museum workers dodged bullets and bombs to protect the material manifestations of their cultural heritage and shared history. Now during hard economic times, Bosnian museum workers have not been paid for six months and are taking on part-time jobs to support themselves while they continue to work for their country’s museums. During World War II, museum workers at the Hermitage in Russia barricaded themselves in the museum’s basement tunnels and died of starvation and cold protecting their collections from the violence of war. And just a few years ago in 2003, Donny George risked his life during the American invasion of Iraq in an attempt to protect the Iraq National Museum from looters.

Museums are the safe guards and celebrations of our shared heritage, both material and intangible. When our way of life is threatened, we look to museums to remind us who we are and to keep our identities alive. As Americans, our museums contain a vast number of cultural stories and memories, giving us a great responsibility to make the protection and preservation of our many cultural identities a priority. We need to support our museums now so that we may not have to sacrifice so much for the protection of our histories in the future.

Essentially, I grew up in museums. As an adult, I continue to grow up in museums as I graduate from college this year and dedicate my life to museums; to figuring out how they work, how to make them work better, and how to continue to protect the world’s history in ethical and educational ways.

As a representative of our great state of Massachusetts, I hope you will remember how important museums are to me and provide support for museums in your future work.


Meg Lambert

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Spike TV's new show, American Diggers, promotes commercial exploitation of historical sites

This spring, Spike TV intends to air a new show called American Diggers, which will follow a team "led by former professional wrestler-turned-modern-day relic hunter Ric Savage as they scour...battlefields and historic sites, in hopes of striking it rich by unearthing and selling rare pieces of American history."

Let me break it down for you: THIS IS BAD because shows like this perpetuate the idea already put forth by pop culture icons like Indiana Jones that cultural property is "treasure": old things with great economic value. This is not responsible archaeology, and it needs to be shut down. Sign this petition on to urge Spike TV to cancel the show before they can continue to poison the minds of America with the idea that looting is fun and stuff.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ancient Olympia Museum robbed and Geroulanos a coward for resigning?

Gold ring seal, Antheia, Messinia. Date: 14th or 13th century. 
It's been all over the news: last week two armed robbers broke into the Archaeological Museum of Olympia, tied up on the only on-site guard, smashed and made off with 77 artifacts dating back more than 3,000 years. It was the second devastating blow to Greece's cultural heritage in the midst of their economic crisis after paintings from the National Museum were stolen last month. Due to extreme budget cuts, funds for security have been halved in the last few years, leaving Greece's cultural institutions incredibly vulnerable to theft and looting. So, far the case at Olympia remains at a dead end, made even more complicated by the fact that it appears the police and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism are releasing differing information about their understanding of the heist. 

However, the most concerning aspect of this case for me is that due to the embarrassment of the break-in, culture minister Pavlos Geroulanos submitted his resignation to prime minister Lucas Papademos. Papademos rejected it yesterday, which could be both a good and bad thing. The entire situation is giving me flashbacks to around this time last year when Zahi Hawass resigned as from the antiquities department in Egypt after the many cases of break-ins and looting through the revolution and limited resources to deal with it. At the time, Hawass blamed the lack of resources and security for his inability to prevent chaos. He said, "I cannot stay in Egypt and see antiquities being stolen when I cannot do anything to stop it! This situation is not for me!" The problem is that there very probably were things he could have done to better prevent mass looting of archaeological sites and the looting at the national museum, including reaching out to international organizations and mobilizing the kinds of youth who locked arms in front of the museum. With Greece currently in a similar situation, it might have been wise for Geroulanos to learn from Egypt's tragedies and mistakes and do what he could to deal more creative and proactively. For some perspective, this situation compared with how Bosnia is dealing with their current funding issues is particularly embarrassing: while museum workers in Bosnia have historically dodged bullets to save their artifacts, have not been paid for six months, and are taking on part-time jobs to support themselves while supporting their museums, Greece's culture minister has thrown up his hands after two high-profile (and therefore easier to track down) museum thefts.

I personally see these resignations as cowardly and ineffective. (Though, in the case of Hawass, it was time to get rid of him anyway.) Maybe I'm just young and naive, but to me Geroulanos's resignation was essentially an admission that he was unwilling to support his country throughout this difficult time in any way his government position may allow. Geroulanos is still minister for now, but I hope that a much stronger replacement can be found as soon as it is financially or politically possible.