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The case of the smuggled Ban Chiang artefacts unearthed earlier this month in California has far-reaching consequences for museums and industry in the US.

San Diego Union Tribune, 17 February 2008

Balancing art, Ethics
San Diego Union Tribune, 17 February 2008

Industry watchers are sitting up and paying close attention to the case because for a long time, the question of unclear provenance has not been looked closely into, and museum directors find it easier – and something given leeway to – turn a blind eye.

John Russell is a professor of art history and archaeology at the Massachusetts College of Art and vice president of the Archaeological Institute of America. He said the research value of artifacts plummets when the provenance is lost or tainted because knowing the archaeological context of a piece can tell researchers as much about a culture as the artifact itself.

He called the Southern California case “the tip of the iceberg” and said he and other scholars are watching closely because they hope the investigation helps clean up the industry.

“If museum directors think they might go to jail, they might start thinking more carefully,” said Russell, who prefers long-term loans to the purchase and sale of artifacts. “But as long as there are no consequences, they’ll continue to do it.”

There was also a mention about recent sales of Ban Chiang ware over the Internet:

Last week, at least two Ban Chiang antiquities were being auctioned on eBay. The high bid for an ancient bowl stood at $27; the opening price for a bronze bracelet was $299.

Such transactions are against the law, said the Thai government and U.S. officials. Federal agents monitor Web-based auctions, which can lead them to major dealers illegally trading artifacts.

Read the full article here.

Related books:
Who Owns Objects?: The Ethics And Politics of Collecting Cultural Artefacts
Against Cultural Property: Archaeology, Heritage and Ownership (Duckworth Debates in Archaeology) (Duckworth Debates in Archaeology)
The Ethics of Collecting Cultural Property : Whose Culture? Whose Property?
Who Owns the Past?: Cultural Policy, Cultural Property, And the Law
Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and the Antiquities Trade (Cultural Heritage Studies)
Ethical Issues in Archaeology (Society for American Archaeology)
Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership: The Ethical Crisis in Archaeology (Duckworth Debates in Archaeology)
Ban Chiang, a Prehistoric Village Site in Northeast Thailand: The Human Skeletal Remains (Thai Archaeology Monograph Series, 1) by M. Pietrusewsky and M. T. Douglas
The Bronze Age of Southeast Asia (Cambridge World Archaeology) by C. Higham
Southeast Asia: A Past Regained (Lost Civilizations)
Ban Chiang: Art and prehistory of Northeast Thailand by A. J. Labbei
Ban Chiang: Discovery of a Lost Bronze Age by the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania by J. C. White
Cognition and design production in Ban Chiang painted pottery by P. Van Esterik
Ban Chiang prehistoric cultures by Y. Chin
Origins Of Thai Art by B. Gosling

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