Every year, the illicit antiquities trade decimates historical sites, robs objects of their archaeological and historical context, literally uproots the dead, and destroys any possibility of preserving cultures whose language is dead or dying and whose histories lie solely in the artifacts and bodies they left behind. In turbulent and economically depressed countries such as Peru or Iraq, looting antiquities is often one of the only ways small towns and villages are able to support themselves financially. Looters are driven to dig up their own ancestors and rip the textiles off their bones and the gold from their faces. Dealers pay these looters pennies for their “merchandise”. Collectors pay the dealers thousands to millions for mute objects that they hoard (and stingily provide access to groveling scholars) or end up donating to museums for a healthy tax deduction. Museums then display these objects without provenance and we, the privileged Western population, view them with only vague explanations of their origin and purpose. What we end up with are institutions full of cultural objects they can’t explain, wealthy collectors amassing fragmented histories, and huge losses to any future understanding of our collective history.
Until now, there has been no discernible widespread effort by college students to promote awareness or incite activism to curb a trade that is inextricably connected to our own lives, from the museums we visit to the terrorism we hear or experience every day. There are unique opportunities for college students to become specially involved in curbing the illicit antiquities trade through campus activism, volunteering, internships, our vote, and our future careers. This blog seeks to fill the huge gap in the existing blogosphere and informational sources in order to enable college students to find the information they need to help prevent making our history and archaeology degrees totally irrelevant.
This blog will largely feature commentary by myself on various media having to do with antiquities, archaeology, and certain cultural heritage issues; information on specialized college degree programs and internship opportunities specifically in the area of cultural heritage; and for the next fifteen weeks, will act as a supplement to my internship with Saving Antiquities For Everyone/SAFE, where I will be designing and launching a campaign for awareness of the illicit antiquities trade on college campuses. Though this is a blog, not a forum, I do encourage polite yet impassioned discussion by anyone and everyone, especially college students, on how to more effectively and efficiently promote awareness of these issues and get some real, discernible effects to save our common histories.
Though looting has been practiced worldwide throughout history, whether in the form of grave robbing or war looting, I do not believe it has to continue. Reasons for looting have changed drastically since the 19th century, and the argument that it has always existed is a brittle one in the newer, more economic, and drastically more destructive face of looting that exists today. I believe my generation has the tools, ambition, and opportunities to do some serious damage to the illicit antiquities trade and to purify the integrity of our museum collections and educational resources.