When we hear through the news that priceless artefacts and antiques are being relentlessly shipped out of third world countries, we are quite shocked at the world’s loss. The most recent incident reported by the Guardian involved an Argentinean diplomat who at the end of his posting, attempted to ship out nearly six tonnes of what were supposed to be ‘personal effects’ but were in fact priceless Persian antiques. The diplomat’s excuse was that these items were up for public sale and that many things were bought at the local Friday markets.
History also provides examples of this type thing happening all the time, whether it was Hitler’s rifling of European (mainly Jewish) houses and public galleries during the Second World War, or the disappearance of priceless artefacts during the most recent Iraqi crisis, cultural plunder continues to go on. Of course, Britain’s hands are not clean in all of this either. There is still an ongoing argument with Greek authorities as to the ownership of the Elgin Marbles, some suggesting that Britain’s procurement of the Marbles was tantamount to looting and vandalism and that they should be returned to what is regarded as their cultural homeland in Athens.
So when we go on holiday to third world countries, should we think long and hard before buying antique wooden carvings in local bazaars or plundering stocks of antique furniture, ceramics, glassware and anything else that takes our eye from eager dealers? Customs may not always be vigilant and once these antiquities have left, it is highly unlikely that they will return to their place of origin and these countries will lose because of it.
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