Sunday, April 11, 2010

Getting up to speed...

While I start the hunt for the first major new events or stories to detail on my blog (and simultaneously deal with all the 1,001 other things that seem to crop up during the course of a graduate student's day), I figured I'd dedicate my 2nd post to bringing nascent readers up to speed on the blogging I've been doing since joining SAFE (as activist, resources/webpage editor, blogger, and all around fan).

My first post for them concerned my most recent research trip to Vietnam (November 2009-January 2010), and specifically, observations and photographic documentation that I was able to collect of the innumerable small, portable, prehistoric and early historic period artifacts available for sale in many general antique and "souvenir" shops, in not only Hanoi and Hoi An (where I personally observed these transactions), but all points in between. Overall, Vietnam has not been considered a major Southeast Asian source country for the recent antiquities trade (compared to Thailand and Cambodia), but I'm worried this is changing. News and updates as events warrant. The original post is here.

I then wrote about the fanfare that surrounded the release of the latest I.C.O.M. "Red List" series of guidebooks meant to help customs agents thwart the antiquities trade at points of transit. This time, Cambodia was the focus. Although I did my best to weigh both the pros and cons of this new edition to the fight, my review and analysis left me feeling that, unless it can be used in the context of wider (ongoing) outreach efforts to stop new looting before it starts, then it won't do much good. However, please do read the post and judge for yourselves. Discussion appreciated!

On February 17th, 2010, Dr. Christopher Chippindale, of Cambridge University, came to ANU to give a guest lecture on what the antiquities trade has done (and is doing) to the world of Classical Archaeology. In the end, it all boiled down to a fundamental clash between the "Archaeologist's view," and the "Connoisseur's view." One recognizes aesthetic qualities inherent in an artifact, but elevates the importance of context, while the other idolizes aesthetics to the near-total ignoring of context. Guess which one's which... The numerous case studies from Dr. Chippindale's (and colleagues) own work made it that much more of an informative lecture. My original post is here.

Finally, I most recently wrote two related posts (here and here) centered around two galleries based in Australia who have recently, due to public pressure, removed from their online catalogs (or eBay store in the case of the smaller of the two galleries), late Iron Age "Dong Son" culture bronze coiled bangles and 'armlets' (gauntlets) with human bones still inside. For an example of what this looked like while on display for purchase, see the photo accompanying my first post on this blog. The former director of one of the galleries (BC Galleries), was recently arrested in Thailand for smuggling artifacts from Egypt back to Australia....yet it's business as usual at BC Galleries. Even a cursory glance will reveal hundreds of items with little to know stated provenance, and that's just a fraction of what's admittedly in storage. The two incidents detailed in these posts, personal observations in the field, and a growing sense of unease over the degree to which the "antipodes" are overlooked, form the impetus for this blog.

Further searching of the BC Galleries website has, just this moment, revealed that they are still trying to sell artifacts containing human bones (above left). More on this as it develops.

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