Ancient Artifact Repatriation- Proposal 1

The Elgin Marbles were found in Athens but are owned by England.

For my final paper, I would potentially like to explore the issue of ancient artifact repatriation.  Although not an issue that generally garners any attention in U.S. politics, it is increasingly becoming a source of international tensions in countries like Egypt and Turkey where important pieces of art and history have been taken by other countries. At the present, the most debate revolves around whether or not ancient artifact found in a country belongs to the national government of that country or the person/organization that found the item.

On one side, people argue that items found in unstable or corrupt countries face threats from thieves and are not able to be studied sufficiently.  Others say that a country’s cultural heritage is entirely its own and thus, it is entitled to all artifacts found in its borders.  Where issues occur, however, is when an artifact is found in one country but at the time of the item’s production, the area it was found in was part of a different country. In modern times, who is the rightful owner?

A source I found through Global Issues is Context is a NYT article from 2009  titled “A Case in Antiquities for Finders Keepers“. The author, John Tierney, is a journalist for the NYT and often writes about science, society, and libertarian politics.  In it, he makes an argument against repatriation. He cites the issue that turmoil in countries with rich archaeological opportunities can prevent proper excavation and security of artifacts. Additionally, laws that make acquiring ancient artifacts through the antiquities market criminal discourage buyers with legitimate research interest. Thus, potentially important artifacts may stay unknown.  It was the French and the Germans who solved the puzzle of the  Rosetta Stone. Would it ever have been solved if it had stayed in Egypt?

Each side of these debates has valid points that make current international policies inconsistent and sometimes ineffective. From my courses at Bucknell, I have come to see that opinions on this issue tend to vary by profession, with curators having one view and archaeologists another. While this piece could be considered a “society” source, I am interested to see the viewpoints of those in academia (society), museums (business), and politics (government).


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