Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Hindu: England loots Iranian Treasures, V&A and British Museum Involved

The Hindu News Update Service: "Plundered treasures of Pak, Iran end up in UK
London, Nov 14. (PTI): Major archaelogical sites in Pakistan and Iran have been plundered and their spoils are flooding London markets, a leading British archaeologist has said.

"Although the illegal destruction occurs abroad, much of the looted materials channeled here to Britain and is sold in London.

Best coming to London

The best material is coming to London," Robin Coningham, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Bradford, who has surveyed the ancient sites in the region for six long years, said.

He said there are upto 100 dealers in London specialising in Asian material, adding most of them sell objects from bona fide collections.

Coningham said he was alarmed by the amount of "new" material without any excavation details.

"A lot of it looks pretty fresh and does not have any archaeological provenance," he said.

Legal once in UK

Once the antiquities are in Britain, anyone selling them is operating within British law.

Anyone can buy an object legally through an auction house or dealer, as long as they show due diligence, he was quoted as saying in a British daily.

Coningham surveyed sites in Pakistan and Iran in collaboration with the universities of Peshawar and Tehran, with the backing of the Royal Geographical Society, the British Institute of Persian Studies and the British Academy.

Coningham was quoted as saying in 'The Times' daily that they found 18 new archaeological sites dating to the first millennium BC in the Hindu Kush region, of which 14 had been damaged by illicit excavations, and more than 120 sites dating back to 8,000 BC in the Tehran plain, of which most had suffered recent damage.

Treasures from 3000 BC

His research found that Iran is being plundered of treasures dating back to 3,000 BC to AD 500, and Pakistan is being robbed of antiquities created between 500 BC and AD 400.

"Are we really happy to do nothing as the cultural heritage of the developing world is asset-stripped while we serve as a market stall of objects of dubious provenance?" Coningham asked.

According to Neil Brodie, coordinator of the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge University, up to 20 per cent of the material being offered in London does not have an archaeological provenance.

Part of the problem, according to Professor Coningham, anyone could wander into the British Museum or the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum with an object and get an appraisal.

"It's a public service" he said, "but museums are giving information and therefore providing an academic provenance."

Brodie suggested that the British Government should extend to Pakistan and Iran the emergency legislation it passed last year to protect Iraqi antiquities.

That legislation forces anyone in possession of such an object to prove it came out legally before UN sanctions were imposed on Iraq.


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