Should endangered antiquities be leased out?

Michael Kremer has another neat idea:

Most countries prohibit the export of certain antiquities.  This practice often leads to illegal excavation and looting for the black market, which damages the items and destroys important aspects of the archaeological record.  We argue that long-term leases of antiquities would raise revenue for the country of origin while preserving its long-term ownership rights.  By putting the object into the hands of the highest value consumer in each period, allowing leases would generate incentives for protection of objects.

I’m all for trying this, as I see no major downside.  But I don’t think it would have a large positive effect.  Collectors, being irrational creatures and "completists," wish to own rather than lease, even if the lease extends past their expected lifetimes.  Museum donors wish to fund museum acquisitions more than museum borrowings.  Similarly, it is much easier for a non-profit to raise money for buying a building than leasing one long-term.  So the demand for leased antiquities won’t be all that huge.


How much does the National Zoo pay China to have the pandas in Washington? I believe no pandas are ever "sold" -- always loaned in exchange for large amounts of money. China even owns the babies born overseas.

There are differences between zoo animals and ancient vases -- but the similarity is that the public wants to see them on display, which makes money for the displaying institution.

I believe the quote has two flaws. First that "illegal excavation and looting" damage the items. And second, that this practice "destroys important aspects of" the record. The notion of collective ownership of "antiquities" is socially constructed and bogus as far as I believe. The notion of "damage" is false because to the archaeological industry anyone getting their hands on antiquities beside themselves is "damage."
But I agree with the conclusion that leasing them is not very practical.

I am not sure leasing would have any effect on the antiquities trade, but the Van Gogh museum sent it's entire collection on tour for long enough, and for enough, to rebuild itself.

I don't know why you say museums wouldn't want to borrow antiquities. They do already. At one point in my life, I had a job that included reviewing liability cover for large culturally-important tours to New Zealand.

Tours were quite common, and the objects coming ranged from Impressionist paintings to collections of dinosaur bones. The value of the assets in any one tour ranged from hundreds of thousands to hundreds of millions (large painting collections makes up the latter). Often these tours were sponsored by large corporates.

I have no special information about collectors.

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