Monday, 17 March 2014

D'oh, how do you solve the problem of undocumented artefacts?

Peter Tompa, a lawyer lobbying on behalf of American coin dealers, bewails that proposed emergency restrictions on importing Egyptian antiquities into the United States may encourage US Customs "to seize undocumented Egyptian artifacts". He then plaintively asks:

"But what will the trade and the many collectors of ancient Egyptian artifacts do about it?"

D'oh! Er ... how about simply documenting them? Then ... er ... they wouldn't be "UNdocumented" would they? Even for Homer Simpson, that logic wouldn't be rocket science.

Of course, it might be a tad late to do that now. The proposed restrictions are a reaction to the enormous looting of archaeological sites, museums and storerooms that took place during and after the Egyptian Revolution, which began in January 2011. Perhaps the "trade and the many collectors" that Peter Tompa exhorts to take action by protesting should instead have got their act together and actually documented their artefacts a bit sooner.

After all, I and many others have been rattling on for literally years about the importance of keeping proper records of antiquities. Hey, I even came up with a very viable scheme to make it easy way back in 2009: International Antiquities Registry (IAR).

Ideally, Egyptian antiquities should be documented before 1970 (the date of the relevant UNESCO Convention) or 1983 (the year of the Egyptian Law on the Protection of Antiquities) but any record dating before 2011 would at least prove the artefact had no connection with the events prompting the proposed emergency restrictions.

US Customs may insist on records predating 1983. Or, in the case of most run-of-the-mill "minor" artefacts at least, they may be satisfied with a much shorter record of collecting history. Tompa's answer to that uncertainty is to just moan about the situation and to continue to ignore the wisdom (and ethicality) of keeping any records at all.

D'oh. Pass me another donut.

Meanwhile, a telling comparison has been made between that attitude to the proposed restrictions and that of another American lawyer.

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