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Debate over ancient artifacts reaches Penn

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009



A debate over ancient artifacts is being waged at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Should objects dug up from archeological sites be the property of the diggers, or the host country?

Caption: The African Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania Museum

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In the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, River Phoenix plays the adventurer as a young man who stumbles upon archeological looters.

Phoenix: That cross is an important artifact. It belongs in a museum!

That notion has fallen from favor as more scholars say artifacts should belong to the people whose culture the object represents, and not a foreign institution halfway around the globe.

But Jim Cuno feels differently. He’s the president of the Art Institute of Chicago and he’s been invited to the Penn to argue that local laws governing the ownership of antiquities are not in the service of culture and history.

Cuno: Culture is always a dynamic hybrid form of human expression, and that kind of dynamic flow that has been interrupted by the imposition of nationalist borders and political agendas is something we need to think twice about.

Cuno says museums are better suited to protect the physical object and its cultural context.


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