Should Cultural artifacts remain at their places of Origin?
Every one of us has seen the marvelous pieces of priceless artifacts such as paintings and sculptures displayed in our local museums - Should Cultural artifacts remain at their places of Origin? introduction. We enjoy glancing at them so much that when we finally exit the museum, we desire to see them again the next day in the same exact spot, as if they belong to the museum. Most of us forget the fact that these artifacts which we assume are owned by the museum have their individual histories and places of origin. Indeed it is a good thing for us to examine these artifacts and feel the cultural relevance that they behold, at our closest museums; however there are several problematic points that we must take into consideration. There are high risks in transporting/cleansing these items from country to country, some of these artifacts may have been illegally obtained through historical warfare or black markets, and to keep things simple, they are cultural mementos that represent the country they originate from. Due to these reasons, it is the very best for these artifacts to be returned to their country of origin. In transporting or even attempting to preserve these cultural artifacts in foreign museums, there are high risks of damaging them. Even if we were to handle these items with extreme caution, human encroachment towards these items will inevitably cause damage one way or another.
These damages towards items, deliberately or accidentally will cause not just a loss of value, but international problem within countries. The Elgin marbles kept in the British museum for example caused pandemonium between Greece (where it originated) and Britain when it suffered “irreplaceable damage.” According to Smith (2003) The British museum attempted to polish the Elgin marbles trying to make them cleaner and look whiter. The chemical components of the cleaning material severely damaged the 2,500-year-old treasure making it lose its historical marks left by workers at the time, and severely deformed the marbles itself. This caused a major debate between the two countries which is yet to be resolved. While some artifacts can be transported from places to places, others just cannot move from their original area. The cave painting of Lascaux for example, have been preserved for centuries thanks to the cave`s climate conditions such as the temperature and moisture levels given off from the water source within the cave. Due to these strict climate conditions, the caves are sensitive to numerous external sources such as camera flashes and carbon dioxide given off from us humans thus the cave has been sealed off and prohibited entry (Grabianowski, 1998, pg.4). Damages done by any means will not only hurt the value of the item itself, but it hurts its cultural background which can be severe enough to cause conflict within different cultures. In order to prevent these conflicts a fatal damages to the items, it is best for cultural artifacts to remain where they originate. Transporting cultural artifacts may seem like an arduous problem, but it is the fact that some of these items were obtained by illegal means that really fire up the debate on what belongs where. Artifacts that were obtained by past warfare as loot or repatriations sometimes lose what culture they originated in. In the United States, the government now owns artifacts that were made from Native Americans. Both the Native Americans and the US citizens are considered “American” so which culture do the artifacts really belong? In order to solve this problem the US federal Government passed the Native American Graves Protections and Repatriation act, which gave Native American tribes the legal authority to reclaim artifacts from federally funded museums. The law requires museums to return sacred artifacts used for ceremonial purposes and keep an up-to-date inventory check of all items that have Native American backgrounds. (Annenberg Classroom. 2012).
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The law was passed since most of these items were purchased with value less then the object beholds, or stolen with little legal action. Laws like this may solve problems within country but situations where the issue is set internationally are much more painstaking. Many modern phenomenons such as war cause large disturbances in the art world, especially when items are looted/stolen from their country of origin. The Website RT Question more (2013) reports on a news article which state the following: “On top of thousands of looted or illegally obtained cultural artifacts during the war, billions of dollars have also been transferred out of “Iraq’s Central banks to US without any paper trail.” The Iraqi architect estimated there are about “35,000 small and large items missing from the National Museum of Iraq which was plundered before their very eyes, lasting three days without the occupation forces stepping in at all.” Due to this, over 1 billon dollars was demanded for repatriation of the Iraqi Artifacts but the United States refused to respond to the request which angered the Iraqi government.” When cultural relics are removed from their country of origin by force, harsh conflicts and negotiations of who takes responsibility worsen. In order to end these antagonistic disputes, and pacify relationships within cultures or countries, it is best to return artifacts to their true origin before things exacerbate beyond control.
Putting aside legal issues and troubles with transportation, one simple reason artifacts should remain within country is that they are representatives of their own culture and lifestyle and they can only be enjoyed to the fullest of extent in where they originated. They are appreciated better and understood better by staying within their historical background. On the other hand, when artifacts are removed from their original area, it makes it harder or even prevent the local residences to see and understand their own cultural representatives, especially in third world countries that cannot afford to travel to foreign museums. (Color Ur life, 2013) Keeping cultural artifacts within the country also has is economical benefits for the country as well. Tourism is a major economic boost for some countries and keeping cultural artifacts increase the amount of tourists, ultimately maintaining the countries’ economic stability. Egypt for example relies solely on tourism to maintain its economy. In 1990, the GDP of Egypt was $24 billion, of which tourism made up about 10%. Tourist revenue continued to increase along they year from $800 million in 1984 to $2.5 billion in 1989. (TED Case Studies, 1997) Priceless items play a key role in the economic conditions of the country but more importantly, they have the power to represent the country’s unique history and teach us a lot about certain areas.
Indeed there are enough reasons as to why it is important to retain cultural artifacts within country but some argue on the other hand that it would be better for these artifacts move to foreign areas. Most points of the argument gather around the fact that because these cultural artifacts represent a certain countries’ culture, it is better to spread its history around the world for our education. A blog from website Color Ur life (2013) claims that museums are historical and cultural centers. They are one of the
only places where thousands gather, either for vacation purposes or school/business trips, to learn about ancient civilization and to admire their cultural relevance. Not many would be willing to go far away to their places of origin to see these artifacts, thus keeping artifacts domestically would waste its educational potentials. Despite this argument, taking out cultural relics from their country of origin is still problematic in many ways; damages done to them will reduce their value and thus, waste its educational potential far greater than if it were not to be seen by many people. Legal troubles exist as well and to prevent these troublesome problems, it is best not to move these items around.
All in all, it is best for cultural artifacts to remain where they had originated, after all they represent a particular culture so they have all rights to remain at where they stand best. Keeping artifacts in place also prevents various problems such as legal problems, ownerships, and damages in transportation and preservation. Indeed we may want to examine these priceless artifacts at the closest possible museums; however, we can only truly appreciate its value by examining them alongside its history at it country of origin.