Ethics reading Plundered Past

Ethics reading Plundered Past - net

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net works Karen Olsen Bruhns T he Internet is a powerful sales tool. All of us who suffered through media bleatings about e-commerce during this past holiday season must be aware of that. International business and middle-class America are now online. A general feelingas reported in the business section of my local newspapersis that some 40 percent of all American households are connected to the Internet. This figure rises to 75 percent or more of all people earning over $70,000 a year. Small wonder then that the antiquities market has moved online in an ever-increasing manner. Starting with the arrowhead collectors/dealers, who have been very active on the Web for some time, moving to auction houses from Sotheby's to the guys who auction more modest estates, and then the dealers themselves, everyone has gotten or is getting onto the Internet band wagon. In the previous SAA Bulletin [2000, 18(1): 15], Alex Barker addressed some of the aspects of this vast expansion of the illicit antiquities market, specifically the immense and eBay ( ) auctions as they get into the business of flogging antiquities worldwide. This is a disastrous situation, although one that was to be expected given the ambivalent attitude towards antiquities dealing exhibited by the U.S. legal system. Yes, e-trading is going to, if it has not already, increase the rate of site destruction worldwide. And, as Barker remarked, it is extending the market to really low economic levelspotsherds literally being scraped by the bagful from sites around the world to make earrings, fancy little box lids, and similar pieces of decorative kitsch. The Web provides a huge opportunity for antiquities sales. Paper costs have risen sharply and the cost of catalogue publication has become prohibitive. On the Web, multiple color photographs of objects can be disseminated cheaply and extensively. New stock can be inserted instantly and dubious items removed or transferred to a less prestigious venue as the demands of commerce or escaping prosecution indicate. No more mailing costs and delays. The Web really is an enormous advantage to highly visual and semi- legitimate businesses. People have attempted to sell babies and kidneys on eBay; why shouldn't they attempt to sell looted antiquities too? I will restrict my specific comments to precolumbian antiquities, as this is my area of expertise. I understand from colleagues in Egyptology, East Asian Studies, and even paleontology (which has recently awakened to the tremendous increase in the value of fossils and the hemorrhaging of fossils from this and other countries), that the situation exists everywhere. The past is being bulldozed out of the ground and sold online. Precolumbian antiquities are being sold through numerous venues on the Web, ranging from Sotheby's auction house ( ), through and eBay, to lower-end dealers like the Relic Shack ( ) or Riley's Rocks (
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This note was uploaded on 03/06/2009 for the course ANT 03 taught by Professor Bettinger during the Winter '09 term at UC Davis.

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Ethics reading Plundered Past - net

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