The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), in its continuing campaign to vilify antiquities collectors and dealers as a means of eliminating archaeological looting, has now drawn a bead on Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY). AIA president Nancy Wilkie has accused the senator of “aiding unethical antiquities dealers” and, as a payoff for campaign contributions, endorsing the appointment of antiquities collector Shelby White to a presidential committee concerned with preventing the importation of looted artifacts.
In a column entitled “Moynihan’s Mischief” in the November/December 2000 issue of Archaeology, the AIA’s official magazine, Wilkie describes White as “a voracious collector of antiquities.” Wilkie does not specify what makes White a “voracious” collector instead of just a collector, but it is clear that the voracious ones are the worst kind. Wilkie then suggests that it was no “coincidence” that Moynihan initiated White’s appointment only after he had been “the recipient of generous campaign contributions from White and her financier husband, Leon Levy.”
The AIA had mounted a strenuous, but ultimately unsuccessful, campaign to stop the White appointment. Wilkie described White as someone “who seems to show no concern for protecting our heritage”: White’s appointment was “like putting a fox in charge of the chicken coop.” Claire Lyons, a former AIA vice president, said she “was deeply concerned at this intended appointment.” Nonetheless, the AIA’s lobbying campaign backfired: President Clinton appointed White as one of three “public members” provided for in the statute creating the committee.
The AIA correctly reasons that if there were no antiquities collectors or dealers, there would be no looting because there would be no market for antiquities. But that unfortunately is living on Fantasy Island. Putting antiquities dealers out of business would only drive the market underground. As a practical matter, the market cannot be eliminated. The real question is what kind of people will be the buyers. If looting is to be stopped, it must be stopped at the source.
What is indisputable is that the AIA policy has been a dismal failure. Despite the AIA’s attitude toward collecting, owning and selling antiquities, archaeological looting is worse than ever. When will they lift their heads from the sand?
There are more effective solutions. It would be better if responsible collectors purchased important pieces and made them available to scholars and museums. It would be better for governments to sell low-end artifacts like oil lamps—of which there are tens of thousands of duplicates—thereby making it less profitable for looters to ransack sites. Why not use market mechanisms to reduce looting, since the policy of attacking collectors and calling dealers names has not worked.1
Incredibly, the AIA will not even discuss the issue, so self-righteously certain is it that its position is the only correct and ethical one.
Several years ago, when the AIA met in Washington, Archaeology magazine’s distinguished editor, Peter Young, and its very talented publisher, Phyllis Katz, came to see me; we discussed holding a conference jointly sponsored by the AIA and the Biblical Archaeology Society (the publisher of this magazine) to discuss the problem of archaeological looting and various ways of dealing with it. But the suggestion never even got to an AIA committee. “It wasn’t pushed by the right people,” Young later told me. I raised the matter with the AIA’s Vice Chairman for Professional Responsibilities, Ricardo Elia. He responded as follows: “You have misrepresented the views of the AIA—claiming there is some ‘policy’ of vilifying collectors—in so many venues that I can’t imagine you would think we would want to sponsor anything together with your group. Thanks but no thanks.” (I wonder if he would still claim that I misrepresent the AIA’s position in light of President Wilkie’s characterization of White as a “voracious” collector.)
One member of Elia’s committee on professional responsibility suggested that I appear before the committee and present my views. I wrote Elia with this proposal. He responded: “Your views on the antiquities trade are well known to most of us. I don’t think it would be productive to reiterate them before the committee.”
It’s too bad that all of us who are concerned about archaeological looting can’t get together to talk civilly about how to deal with the problem most effectively.
The AIA’s relationship to Shelby White and her husband Leon Levy has long been a troubled one. White and Levy are major supporters of archaeological work. They single-handedly finance the excavation of Ashkelon, Israel, directed by Harvard professor Lawrence Stager, a dig now in its 16th season. They provide major funding for the restoration of archaeological sites. And, perhaps most importantly, they have created the Shelby White-Leon Levy Publications Program to support scholarly archaeological publications. The program is administered by Harvard University’s Semitic Museum. Over the years, White and Levy have donated approximately two million dollars to this program, of which they are the sole funders.
For the AIA, this program created a problem: Should AIA members apply for support from this program in light of the fact that the money comes from “voracious” collectors? The issue nearly rent the AIA asunder. In 1997 the AIA’s committee on professional responsibilities passed a resolution making it AIA policy to refrain even from informing AIA members of the availability of grants from programs like this one. (Actually, the White-Levy program, though unnamed in the resolution, is the only one of its kind.) Many members of the AIA committee felt it was unethical to accept this kind of dirty money to fund their research. The resolution then went to the executive committee of the Board of Governors, which likewise approved the resolution. That led to a fight within the Board of Governors. Eventually the Board of Governors rejected the resolution. So now it is OK to accept the White-Levy money, even if it is somewhat soiled.
One AIA member, Karen Vitelli, a professor of classical archaeology and anthropology at Indiana University and a former AIA Vice President for Professional Responsibilities, solved her dilemma by accepting a White-Levy grant and then, in the very publication funded by the grant, criticizing White and Levy for their untoward behavior.
Is it OK to take their money and then kick them in the pants? If you take their money, should you at least keep quiet? That is the dilemma facing the next-scheduled president of the AIA, Jane C. Waldbaum. Waldbaum has been the recipient of considerable support from Levy and White. What will she do as AIA president? Will she muffle the AIA’s criticism of Levy and White? Or will she continue to take the money with one hand and attack them with the other? Or will she decline the presidency? Stay tuned.
The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), in its continuing campaign to vilify antiquities collectors and dealers as a means of eliminating archaeological looting, has now drawn a bead on Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY). AIA president Nancy Wilkie has accused the senator of “aiding unethical antiquities dealers” and, as a payoff for campaign contributions, endorsing the appointment of antiquities collector Shelby White to a presidential committee concerned with preventing the importation of looted artifacts. In a column entitled “Moynihan’s Mischief” in the November/December 2000 issue of Archaeology, the AIA’s official magazine, Wilkie describes White as “a voracious collector of […]