Letter To Time Magazine PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 21 December 2007 00:00

21 December 2007

Rick Stengel
Managing Editor
Time Magazine
U.S.A.

Dear Mr Stengel,

The World Archaeological Congress (WAC) is surprised and disappointed that the editors
of Time allowed a story such as “Antiquities: the Hottest Investment” to be published
without providing a more balanced account of the myriad consequences associated with the
trade in antiquities. Many of our members, comprised of those involved in archaeology and
heritage issues in over 90 countries, read this article with utter disbelief. We call upon Time
to retract its apparent advocacy of a practice that is so clearly detrimental to our
understanding of our own human past and to make amends by informing its readers of the
broader implications underpinning this article.

The direct link between the global antiquities market and the irreversible destruction – as a
result of looting - of archaeological sites the world over is well documented. By blatantly
encouraging readers to acquire archaeological material as a sound investment, this article
stimulates fails to examine the nefarious consequences of collecting – artifacts ripped from
the ground, the desecration of tombs and burials, temples and monuments all
decontextualized and devoid of information that they might provide about past societies and
beliefs of people in ancient times.

While the article begins by highlighting the sale of the Guennol Lion, a supposedly “legally
acquired” antiquity (according to the laws and ethics of 1948), it fails to discuss the harsh
realities that all too often these illegally excavated materials are leaving regions (usually
less-developed) torn by war and/or economic distress, coming into wealthy (more
economically developed) countries through a series of illegal maneuvers.

Your article cites two antiquities dealers, who make their living by stimulating demand for
these objects. It unashamedly promotes the valuing of these objects as investments (as well
as their value as markers of taste and wealth). Nowhere in the article is the value of these
pieces as archaeological artifacts mentioned. Unfortunately, whenever an ancient object is
removed from its context, it obliterates most of the clues that archaeologists and others can
use to interpret and understand the past.

The depiction of antiquities as legitimate objects for investment is extremely disturbing in
its disregard for international law regarding cultural property. Behind every object that
surfaces on the antiquities market is a story that more often than not is one of illegal export,
questionable provenance, possible forgery, regions racked by civil unrest or economic
hardship, and gaping holes left in the ground or on temple walls. In truth, it is difficult to
describe or imagine the degree of destruction that takes place in order to find one small
object worthy of the antiquities market. Global trafficking in antiquities leads to destruction
of archaeological sites and loss of information about cultural heritage. The article points to
a serious issue that has arisen since the invasion of Iraq- the loss of that country’s cultural
property. The statue depicted in the piece is described as coming from a “dig near
Baghdad.” It is no part of the practice of archaeology to provide objects for economic
consumption.

In addition, objects that were originally placed with burials are frequently targeted by
looters when searching for material for sale. The practice of investment in antiquites is
clearly linked to the destruction and disrespect shown for human graves. By urging
investment in all types of objects, Time is positioning itself as an advocate for a
dehumanizing practice.

We would call your (and your readers’ and writer’s) attention to the Red Lists published by
the International Council of Museums as an attempt to trace some of the hordes of objects
coming out of Afghanistan, Africa, Iraq, and Latin America to satisfy the acquired tastes of
collectors (http://icom.museum/redlist/). These lists represent only a small portion of a
much larger phenomenon that supplies the “increased interest in art and antiquities as an
investment” that your article promotes. This amounts to the destruction and
commodification, for the sake of vanity, of someone else´s valued heritage.

The article notes that recent laws have restricted the importation of antiquities. These laws
were passed for good reason and it is irresponsible to consider only their impact on the
market and not on the cultural heritage they were designed to protect.

Tastes in collecting are shaped by dealers and by articles just such as the one you published
on December 13. It seems unconscionable for Time to promote the collecting of antiquities
in this manner, without addressing the broader consequences. We look forward to a more
balanced and nuanced treatment of this subject by your magazine and greater accountability
on the part of your editors. Considering the vast influence that Time magazine has among
such a wide spectrum of the public, we ask that you consider running a series of stories in
your magazine to counter the damage done by this article.

Yours sincerely,

Claire Smith
President

 
The World Archaeological Congress is a non-profit organization: WAC 501(c)(3) 52-2294579 074000010 697011369
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