Antiquities and Archaeology Market United Kingdom

Call for levy on sales of antiquities

Funds would help source countries better protect their heritage

Just the kind of object that specialists don’t want to acquire unwittingly: a looted pot recovered by the Carabinieri in 2005. Photo: Chris Helgren/Reuters

A proposed levy on sales of antiquities to raise funds for source countries to help them better protect their heritage has been proposed at an academic conference. But specialists in the antiquities trade have questioned the feasibility of the idea.

Julian Radcliffe, the chairman of the Art Loss Register, made the proposal at a recent conference titled “Vulnerability and Cultural Heritage”, held at Leicester University, UK. “Archaeologists have come to terms with the fact that the trade [in antiquities] is not going to go away, that things have changed and that much of the market is now behaving responsibly,” Radcliffe says. “My idea is to make it very modest, say 1%, and only apply it to items worth more than £10,000, so that no one can claim that it is inhibiting trade or is worth trying to avoid, for example by swops.”

James Ede, a London-based antiquities dealer who was not at the conference, says: “The idea of taxing collectors and museums in this way is a strange one, and I can’t see in any case how such a scheme could possibly work. Who runs it? Who allocates the funds and on what basis?” Dealers and representatives of the leading auction houses were not at the conference, which considered papers on a range of cultural heritage issues, but the organisers are keen to involve them. There have been discussions about a follow-up event to explore the idea further.

Participants also debated the merits of reviving the partage system, which in the past meant that excavated artefacts were shared between the host country and foreign archaeologists and their sponsors through a licensing system. Critics say an imbalance of power used to favour Western archaeologists.

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15 Jul 13
4:41 CET


Brilliant idea! Since the partage system ended stuff just gets piled up in storerooms to deteriorate, be forgotten and stolen. A legitimate sharing of antiquities with responsible Museums would make them available to everyone and the proceeds could help maintain what has been neglected in their countries of origin.

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