Loot

This post was supposed to go up yesterday, but I couldn’t think straight. (That aspect of things may or may not have improved in the last 24 hours.)

Back in October I wrote about mystery writer Tony Hillerman and his crime solving Navajo police officers, “RIP, Tony Hillerman,” October 27, 2008. I mentioned a special liking for “Talking God,” which opens with a lawyer discovering that someone has disinterred her grandparents and mailed her the bones to protest the continued retention of Native American remains in the Smithsonian collections.

When such scenes play out in the “real world,” they tend to wind up in courtrooms rather than graveyards. The J. Paul Getty Museum’s former antiquities curator Marion True seems to still be on trial in Italy on conspiracy charges in connection with the export of items. The civil suit against the museum was resolved when most of the items went back to the place of their making.

Now comes Peru vs. Yale University , a lawsuit that seeks the return of artifacts, including bones, that Yale has kept since Hiram Bingham III “borrowed” them in the early part of the twentieth century. The return is about 90 years overdue, Peru alleges.

The federal suit filed last week claims among other things that Yale knowingly violated the terms of various agreements, including one that gave Peru continued ownership of the artifacts and the right to seek their return.

If it proceeds beyond the filing stage, the suit will embody the disputes raised in Sharon Waxman’s book “Loot,” subtitle, “The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World.” While Waxman limits her discussion to large museums and the theft of items from the area around the Mediterranean, the arguments are the same as those in Peru vs. Yale. Portfolio lays out the arguments on both sides.

Like the museum officials interviewed for “Loot,” Yale claims that it is better able to protect, display, and disseminate information about the treasures. Taking the paternalistic “white man know better” approach, it claims that Peru lacks the money and facilities to take care of its own stuff or to conduct adequate research. One commenter on the Yalie Daily story said the treasures will wind up “in the hands of thiefs [sic] and the highest bidders down in Macondo.”

One Peruvian historian replies that Yale’s refusal to return items that are subject to an agreement amounts to looting just as much as grave robbing does.

The folks at the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty, and the British Museum also countered requests from Turkey, Egypt, Greece, and Italy with the argument that the people seeking return of the antiquities are not the same people who created them. Does this position defeat the claims of the Peruvians because the blood of the Incas no longer flows through their veins?

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One Response to “Loot”

  1. Why Pay Full Price? « Lizr128′s Blog Says:

    […] glad that the Peruvian artifacts will be going home. (“Loot”).Yalies should now be able to rest […]

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