James Brothers <[log in to unmask]> wrote (in
<[log in to unmask]>) about 'Artefacts removed from context',
on Wed, 23 Jul 2003:
>For some things replicas are all that is available. And serve well. Very few
>of us will ever get to look at, or even rarer handle, early hominid fossil.
>Many Anthropology departments have a good collection of replicas.
Indeed; if well-made, they perform a valuable service.
>On the other hand, for some things replicas just don't seem right, or as
>useful. There is something visceral in actually seeing the cave paintings at
>Alta Mira. I don't think I would get the same experience from the replicas in
Well, yes; shown in a modern gallery, they would be very much out-of-
context. But there is one site of cave-paintings that is so delicate
that a replica *site* has been built so that people can at least see
something of what is there.
>One thing that many countries do not understand, or fully appreciate, is is the
>marketing potential of museum collections. Very few people just decide to hop a
>plane and fly to Greece to look at classical ruins. The pieces held by museums
>act as a marketing tool. They wet your appetite for more. Remove all of the
>really "neat" artifacts and ship them home and you will probably see fewer
>tourists. Not only at the museum that would have to depend on only local
>material, but also in the country that has repatriated collections.
The idea is not to simply strip out what is repatriated, but to replace
it with well-made replicas.
>There is also the conservation issue. Had Lord Elgin not brought the Parthenon
>frieze to the BM, it would probably have been lost. Up until recently many
>non-Northern European countries have been a bit careless with their cultural
>heritage. Yes an awful lot of the good stuff has ended up in museums in the US
>and Europe. But if it hadn't ended up there, where would it be? I suspect that
>much would have been destroyed.
You are quite right, but that was then and this is now. A condition of
repatriation must be that proper conservation is guaranteed.
>There is also the issue of safety. As an American, it was much more convenient
>and less life threatening for me to look at Sumerian artifacts at the Univ.
>Museum in Philadelphia. The Ishtar Gate is much more accessible in Berlin than
These are more accessible to you, but less accessible to the descendants
of the builders.
> It is rather unlikely that someone will machine gun a bus load of
>tourists looking at the Egyptian temple at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New
>York, as has happened on more than a few occasions over the last few years in
>Egypt. There are places that I would love to go some day, if I had the money,
>and if folks like Bin Laden would stop considering me an aiming point.
This is a universal problem, and not really relevant to the question of
what should happen, if anything, to major artefacts far removed from
their origin. Would you use that argument to justify moving a few
Egyptian pyramids, or perhaps the Sphinx, to Arizona?
>There are a lot more factors involved in this than the mere fact of cultural
I don't think anyone wants to over-simplify the subject, except those
that point-blank refuse even to discuss it.
Regards, John Woodgate, OOO - Own Opinions Only. http://www.jmwa.demon.co.uk
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