Thoughts From Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime Class

I am taking a course in Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime and we were asked to discuss some points about legislation in the US with regard to restricting the transport and shipment of artifacts from Mali.

We were asked to read the submitted comments to Congress by Dr. Hardy, which can be found here. And then we were given some questions to respond to….I think this is a topic which needs to be known on some level by everyone! So I am going to post the questions and my response to the questions below.

What do you think about the situation that Dr. Hardy presents in Looting, the subsistence digging economy in Mali; and stemming the flow of looted antiquities from Mali to the USA?
I think that it is sad; however, it is not uncommon, and will not be fixed overnight. There is a much larger problem that needs to be addressed and sorted in order to have measured success in stemming the flow of stolen artifacts from any insecure area. I do like that his opinion is supported by evidence that clearly implies the realness of the issue and the contributing factors of the issue. Americans have such a desire to just fix “the problem” instantly without looking for and addressing the underlying contributing factors that lead to “the problem”, not that Europe is much better in that regard either. There are NO easy fixes and there is NO 1 idea that will fix this either.
Why might someone choose to loot an archaeological site? Why might others oppose the looting? 
Looting can be carried out for a number of reasons; however, for this discussion let’s focus on subsistence diggers. They are usually poorly educated without marketable skills in remote, unstable, poor areas. They lack access to proper education or healthcare or skill training. They are in short hopeless. Yet, they have themselves and their families to provide for somehow. What options have they been given other than to loot? Especially if you also have the added instability of conflicts and natural disasters.
I would imagine, without insult, that among the societal group that we are focusing on there will not be many that would oppose the looting. However, I would surmise that it would be those that still held out strong belief in the old ways, such as the shamans and wise men and women of the tribes; for these special individuals would be the most knowledgeable about what the group was losing and the finality of that loss to the group and the future health and existence of that group….the easiest and surest way to eliminate a group from existence is to eliminate its history from existence.
Should looters in poor countries be punished for their crimes?
Yes, but, the punishment should be one that truly resolves the probability of future illegal actions by the looters. What does this mean? It means that either instead of jailing, or while they are ‘jailed’ for their crime, that they are properly educated; whether it is becoming literate and or learning a marketable skill and or a basic education, but it should be in regard to the heart of the culture of the group that the subsistence digger belongs to. Thus, do not educate in a manner that means he has to illegally immigrate to another country to find a job, nor that he is only literate in a language that is not of his culture. By doing either of the aforementioned you are actually re-enforcing the idea that his culture does not have value or a place and that looting the history of his culture was not wrong and thus his punishment was wrong and you have instead instilled bitterness to nurture the hopelessness that will foster animosity. Also, include in the punishment a means by which with respect and dignity the individual may restitute for his injury to the group, have him help protect the sites or help with the excavations in some way, he needs value, worth.
What are some ways that the looting of archaeological sites may be prevented in poor source countries?
The basis of any attempt to protect the archaeological sites must include the local societal group as a primary and valuable asset. They need to have reasons not to turn their backs on their own history. These sites need to be the heart of a whole new life for these peoples. I do know that funding is hard, but imagination and creativity should be able to incorporate the local group into the investigations and various aspects, directly and indirectly. I know that some archaeologists do try to make lasting positive relationships with the local group and help them as much as they can, but there needs to be a broader involvement of all the peoples that will benefit from this history that ensures that the locals have some level of improvement from their support of the investigations at the sites. It should not just be the governments and the officials that reap the rewards of the discoveries of the history that belongs to all!
Looting and the illegal trade of artifacts and art are as much a crime against humanity as genocide is, for one you are erasing the culture by erasing the living members of the culture and the other you are erasing them by erasing their history and thus their identity. And both should be treated the same way, those that are used by the powerful and rich for their own sorted goals, in this case the subsistence diggers, should not be held to the same standard as those that create, finance, facilitate, and, in some cases, legalize the crime!

We Don’t Like The Problem

hands on prison bars

So Instead Of Fixing It…… WE CRIMINALIZE IT!!

As a society we have totally lost our common sense. What do I mean? I mean that we no longer use logic, reason or common sense to improve our daily lives or to solve problems that we have created from our greed and selfishness. Our greed and selfishness has destroyed our since of community and responsibility to our fellow man.  We are much more concerned with taking from others before they take from us. We only care about winning and not how we play the game. Sportsmanship used to matter, it was much more honorable to lose gracefully and honorably (that means playing by the rules mattered) than to win cheating.
What we have missed is that sports used to teach us some good rules to live by; playing by the rules was for EVERYONE, being part of a team (community/society) means caring about others, winning by the rules was something to be proud of, team captains (leaders) were responsible for keeping the whole team moving in the same direction, practice makes for improvement (but it takes time), team meetings focused on identifying weaknesses and finding solutions. Now instead we only care about winning and then we pretend to be outraged when someone is caught cheating…..we aren’t mad they cheated we are mad they got caught, that means we have to momentarily see the truth. Good thing we have short memories else we might really dislike ourselves for the empty shells we have become.
Now how do we get from sports to crime….unfortunately there are lots of ways to do that…but this particular path is the short one; the one that is too impatient and detached to really invest time and effort into truly solving real problems. There are many examples of how this path actually increases the problems because the fastest solution is usually not just a bad solution but is such a bad problem that it increases the original problem by creating more problems.
We didn’t like children getting killed by drinking and driving, so instead of teaching children to be responsible for their actions and instead of looking at the real issue, that a majority of the incidents that were used to demand raising the legal drinking age were in fact not committed by teens partying on weekends, but by middle-aged drunks between morning and early afternoon during the week. We “solved” this by criminalizing the responsible drinking by legal adults that are still considered capable of choosing the leaders of the country as well as giving their life for the same country, instead of demanding stricter enforcement of laws already in place.
We didn’t like the terror acts committed on 9/11 so instead of admitting that it was the lazy and incompetent security workers in Bangor, Maine allowed the best opportunity for these attacks. So we initiated policy and practices that took away most of our freedoms while traveling, including how, when, and where we can travel. In this case not only have we not truly ever taken the time to understand the event or the circumstances that led to the event, we have American companies making their entire profits off of our “criminalizing” free travel in America.
unbalanced scales of justiceWe didn’t like the increase in violent crimes, so instead of truly looking at the failure of not only the justice and prison system but also the education system as well as government involvement in community “betterment”, we blamed “guns” and criminalized legal gun ownership. We miss the basic premise that it is most often “career criminals” that commit violent crimes and those persons do not tend to worry about laws or walk into legal venues for the purpose of purchasing firearms.
Now, we don’t like seeing homeless people on our streets or in our cities; so what have we done? We are criminalizing homelessness. This is just another example and maybe one of the most absurd that shows just how hollow we have become as a whole. We as a country expect EVERYONE to be successful by the standards of money and things; yet, we do not provide equal or every opportunity to ensure the mostly likely outcome. Of course the real reason that we do not is that government needs division to stay in power. The best way to stay in power is to make sure your enemies are divided.
We have no one to blame for our de-evolution except ourselves.