September 21, 2006


Report on the 52nd RAI in Münster

Here's an interesting e-mail from my backlog, sent to me on July 27 by Benjamin Studevent-Hickman (University of Chicago). He attended the 52nd Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale (International Congress of Assyriology & Near Eastern Archaeology) in Münster and was so kind to clue me in. Let me extract the most interesting info:

• Dr. Donny George and several other Iraqi officials attended. Studevent-Hickman unfortunately missed his talk which seems to have been organized at the last minute. This is indeed borne out by the fact that he wasn't included in the program.

• During the annual general meeting of the International Association for Assyriology, Dr. Michael Müller-Karpe presented a statement similar to the one he presented last year at the RAI in Chicago. This time he focused specifically on the law proposed recently by the German government to ratify the UNESCO Convention of 1970:

We therefore welcome that Germany has announced, it will ratify the UNESCO convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970). However,we understand that the draft law, which the cabinet has passed and which is now in the process of approval by the parliament, provides protection to cultural property of Non-EU-states only if listed as single, "individually identifiable" items published in the German Bundesanzeiger (Government Gazette). All other objects, especially loot from undocumented illegal excavations, which can not possibly be published in such lists, will continue to be traded freely. Also excluded from restrictions will be items which were smuggled from the countries of origin before the new law has come into force--even if published in the Bundesanzeiger. In the future, evidence that an artifact had left its country of origin before that date will be sufficient to allow it to be bought and sold legally ... We suggest extending the protection of the proposed import, export and trade restrictions to include cultural goods beyond the few objects published in the Bundesanzeiger, to include all archaeological artifacts with the exception of those proven not to be from illegal excavations and not exported in violation of the laws and regulations of the country of origin.

Müller-Karpe argued that the law is too weak due to the result of lobbying by antiquities dealers. During the short discussion time allotted, it was remarked that other German archaeologists also have been lobbying government officials for some time, and one female archaeologist [who?] actually asked Müller-Karpe not to send the statement to the authorities as it would be counterproductive. [sic]

• Also during the IAA general meeting, it was announced that there would be no proposal for a statement on the problem of looting, particularly concerning unprovenanced artifacts. After the heated discussion in Chicago last year, the board of the IAA had been tasked to set up a committee to investigate the issue and report back this year. The president, Dr. Jack Sasson, however announced that no progress had been made and, given the complexity of the issue, any further efforts would be tabled until things "cool down" a bit. My thoughts are still the same as last year: it's a sad reflection of our field of study that we can't agree on how to deal with a phenomenon that has and is still destroying the remains of ancient Mesopotamia...


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