Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Greek Antiquities and the Law

This was posted on the Unidroit-L forum on yahoo.



" THESSALONIKI, Greece — Greek police arrested a veterinarian with more than 2,000 illegally excavated antiquities, including a small clay statue from pre-Columbian America, officials said Friday.... "The confiscated antiquities included more than 1,500 silver and copper coins dating from the 4th century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D., Halkidiki anti-crime squad director Giorgos Tassiopoulos said. Police seized another 680 clay and bronze artifacts, including vases, lamps, statuettes and jewelry.

This is the astonishing reply:


What's the typical penalty for this in Greece? I wonder how many of those finds would have been reported if the Greekstate didn't claim everything in the ground as it's own without discernment.

Seriously!? So what this person is saying is "We'd report our finds if we were allowed to keep them"? Why not just say "Well, ya know, if every country would just make it legal to take whatever we want there would be no looting."

According to the article referenced, this was a Greek man, so he knew, or should have known the laws. He chose to deliberately ignore them. Is this how we want collectors to be seen? Shouldn't we be working to make collecting respectable?

There are laws for a reason. Greece has decided that it is in the best interest of its citizens to protect its heritage and have a say in what happens to antiquities that are found within it's borders. You can't just ignore the laws because you don't agree with them or because they get in the way of something you want to posess or sell.

A question not answered in the article is how did he acquire these artifacts? Was he digging them up illegally and not reporting them, as the law requires, or is this another case of "don't ask, don't tell" buying? Responsible collectors are getting a bad reputation because we seem to either be far out-numbered by the irresponsible ones, or they are much more outspoken.

Here's what I could find on Greek Antiquities Laws:

a. Current scheme based on Greek Antiquities Law of 1932 and 1950. All antiquities on land and sea are the property of the State, which has the right to investigate and preserve them.
Antiquities are broadly defined as "all works, without exception, of architecture, sculpture, graphic art and any art in general. . . and all other works and equipment in whatever material, including precious stones and coins."

b. Anyone finding antiquities or discovering them fortuitously must report the discovery to the authority; there are penalties for not doing so.

c. Antiquities may be freely imported (but must be declared); export can only be made after a decision of the Antiquities Council, and illegal export is punishable by a fine and up to five years imprisonment. Effectively, there is no export of antiquities.

d. Private collections of antiquities are allowed, but a permit is required from the Ministry of Education. Collectors must keep a detailed inventory and grant access to the Ministry for study, photography, etc.

e. All excavations of archaeological sites must be authorized by permit. Foreign schools are permitted three annual excavation permits. Otherwise the State may carry out excavations on national, municipal, religious, and private property, but must pay fair compensation to owners. Illegal excavations (including looting) may bring a prison term of up to two years as well as a monetary fine.

f. Intentional destruction or damage to antiquities carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine.

g. Sales of antiquities are strictly regulated. A permit is required for dealers, who are under the authority of the archaeological authorities. Dealers must submit a monthly list of antiquities acquired by them and offered for sale. The State has the right of preemption in any sale of antiquities in the country. Sales from private collections must be approved by the Ministry.

Knowing what we know of Greek antiquities laws, can anyone say with a straight face that all Greek antiquities for sale on ebay, etc, were ALL exported prior to the 1932/50 laws or have the proper export papers to prove they were exported legally? I think it would be a stretch to say that "many" of the Greek antiquities currently for sale on venues like ebay would hold up to that standard. That is exactly why the ethical collector should be asking these types of questions before we buy an item.

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