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Observations on Cultural Property

Commentators on the collecting of archaeological material and the looting of ancient sites often touch on sensitive areas. This is especially true for the situation in Iraq where the Baghdad Museum has been looted and satellite imagery has suggested a continued problem with illicit digging. And some even try to find consolation that 8 out of some 10,000 sites in Iraq have not suffered from further looting. (For a corrective view see Larry Rothfield, "Yet More Evidence of Looting in Southern Iraq").

Mistakes can be made in such commentaries: and it was a mistake for Peter Tompa---the self-styled "Cultural Property Observer"---to post a report, "BBC Report on Exaggerated Looting of Iraq Museum", as if it was contemporary news (he included the misleading copyright line, "Published: 7/11/2008").

In fact the original report appeared more than five years ago: Jason Burke, "Priceless treasures saved from looters of Baghdad museum", The Observer, June 8, 2003. Tompa even left in the comment, "Dan Cruickshank and the Raiders of the Lost Art is on BBC2 this evening at 9pm"; this was broadcast on Sunday June 8, 2003 (as a quick check on the BBC website would have shown him).

But Tompa is not content to be reminded that this is recycled news by authorities such as Donnie George ("I am very sorry, and I am surprised to see that the same fabricated report has been published again, while the real facts are very well known to the public some years ago") and Patty Gerstenblith ("This story and others were long ago discredited"). (Tompa does not mention Paul Barford, "I am bemused by the stubbornness with which collectors and traders of portable antiquities worldwide are still, five years on, still clutching at straws ...")

Instead of correcting his post (or at best acknowledging the fact that this news came from 2003), Tompa continues:
In any event, the item does suggest that the story of the looting of the museum was exaggerated. Just recently (and as reported on this blog), the Art Newspaper also suggested that stories about looting of archaeological sites were also exaggerated. Does anyone see a pattern here?
Yes. Peter Tompa does not understand the issues.

I will close with another 2003 quote from Rod Liddle ("The Day of the Jackals", The Spectator, Saturday 19 April 2003) relating to antiquities from Iraq.
There are those who say, look, the free market should operate here. Why shouldn't a private collector be allowed to buy an antiquity and keep it in his bathroom, maybe next to the bidet, or as a tasteful holder for the Toilet Duck, if he wishes to do so, and if both he and the seller are happy with the price?


You may not be surprised, either, that ... some of these people formed themselves into a lobbying organisation called the American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP). This group want a 'relaxation' of Iraq's tight restrictions on the ownership and export of antiquities.

And who pops up as a contributor in the subsequent ACCP volume?

Astute readers will know the answer ... but click here to find out.



I believe your mean-spirited blog first presented a misleading picture of what I stated on my own blog and then did me the additional discourtesy of not even providing a link to my post.

Please do so now:

Please let your readers judge what I actually said as they read your comments about it.


Peter Tompa

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