Who Owns Antiquity?

If by chance a scholar came across the Rosetta Stone in a private collection, she would be discouraged from publishing it in today’s leading English-language, archaeological journals.  Those journals have policies against serving as "the initial place of publication or pronouncement" of any unprovenanced object acquired by an individual or institution after December 30, 1970, unless it was in a collection prior to that date, or there is evidence that it was legally exported from its country of origin…Not being acquired or published, and thus neither studied nor deciphered, the Rosetta Stone would be a mere curiosity, Egyptology as we know it would not exist…

That is from James Cuno’s excellent Who Owns Antiquity: Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage.  The book criticizes nationalistic identity politics, calls for measures to broaden international access to antiquities, and argues that museums should again be allowed to acquire undocumented antiquities.  In other words he favors a cosmopolitan, property rights approach.  Here is the book’s web page.  Here is an interview, with incisive questions.


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