I was reading this interesting article on Business Insider that discussed the authenticity and provenience of archaeological artifacts being sold on eBay and Amazon. This highlighted a number of issues that I wanted to briefly touch upon.
The first one is whether artifacts should be sold at all. As an archaeology student, I am certainly biased in my views regarding this topic. I think all artifacts should be owned by public organizations, so that all members of society have the ability to learn from these artifacts, instead of private collectors, where almost no members of the public will have access to it. It is because of this reason that the tone of the article bothered me, as it was advocating for the ability of online buyers to purchase authentic artifacts. I do understand, however, that my views regarding who should own artifacts are idealistic and not very realistic. In a capitalist society, there are always going to be people that will pay a premium to keep a piece of history for themselves, and as such, a market exists for these people.
This brings me to my second point, which is the issue of the entire article, that of authenticity and provenience. The article does highlight a common issue of people who create fake artifacts and also looters, who illegally remove and sell artifacts from sites. Regardless of who owns an artifact, the issue of imitated artifacts is a problem, since it can lead to a misunderstanding of the past. Looting is also a major problem, it removes an artifact from the archaeological context necessary to understand it, and gives it no provenience. These are both serious issues that bring me to my third issue, which is whose responsibility is it to determine the authenticity of an artifact.
Certainly, when an individual or institution purchases a historical artifact they should at all times be wary of the provenience and authenticity of an artifact. However, the onus should be on the retailer, even large online retailers such as Amazon, to investigate the authenticity of an artifact. In a non-online environment, a retailer is obligated to ensure the item is valid. A good example of this would be art dealers who often act in an intermediary capacity between a seller and a buyer. This is a similar capacity to that of Amazon. Overall it seems to me that websites such as Amazon or eBay need more accountability.
What do you guys think? Who is accountable for determining the veracity or authenticity of artifacts? Is it even appropriate to sell archeological artifacts in the first place? If not, is there anything the archeological community could do to limit this practice? Is there anything governments could do?
I look forward to hearing your responses.