Archaeology Odyssey 6:1, January/February 2003

The Forum

Are Shapira’s fakes repulsive pornography or simply modern grotesques? And the Looting Forum: Round 3.

Archaeology Odyssey

Can We Control the Antiquities Market?

Those who favor strict prohibition on the importation and sale of unprovenanced antiquities should answer this question: Why do they think they will have more success than the DEA has had in controlling the importation and sale of illegal drugs?

Bill Leubrie Seattle, Washington

Ancient Detritus

Archaeology Odyssey and Biblical Archaeology Review seem to be gladiatorial arenas for debates over commercial trade in artifacts.

Especially interesting are the progressives who advocate documenting excavated artifacts and then selling them (or a portion of them) to fund research. Their opponents often react strongly on moral grounds, as if having an old amphora in your living room is somehow obscene. The debate is excessively passionate because archaeological artifacts tend to be viewed as sacrosanct objects.

Perhaps the professional archaeology/history community should be reminded that these artifacts are, after all, the detritus left by other human beings. The mass-produced Roman oil lamp was the GE light bulb of its day, and the plain amphora was the Coke bottle or beer can of the Greco-Roman world. This material is not holy; after extracting the historical information from a find and documenting it for future reference, why not sell the (more mundane) artifacts to appreciative collectors to fund more work?

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