JAIC 1997, Volume 36, Number 1, Article 4 (pp. 49 to 58)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1997, Volume 36, Number 1, Article 4 (pp. 49 to 58)

CONSERVATION AND THE ANTIQUITIES TRADE

CATHERINE SEASE



4 THE CONSERVATOR'S DILEMMA

The Kanakariá mosaics case illustrates the dilemma the antiquities trade presents to the archaeological conservator. When presented with an artifact for treatment, should a conservator treat it knowing that by so doing she or he is enhancing the artifact's value and thereby directly abetting the market, while indirectly contributing to the looting of sites? Such action could be rationalized by saying that at least the work would be done according to accepted conservation practice, be fully documented, and become part of the public record—none of which can be said for the Cypriot mosaic fragments. In effect, one is saying the context is already lost, but at least the object, which is surely worth something, can be saved. While most of the information embodied in it has been lost, it can at least tell us something about the past.

Or should the conservator take an ethical stand, refusing to have anything to do with the artifact, least of all its treatment? The rationale for this approach is that any work undertaken, no matter how small or insignificant, condones the antiquities trade. Furthermore, it recognizes that any conservation work will more than likely significantly enhance not only the artifact but its market value as well. Conservation work can also serve to authenticate artifacts, which will add to their market value. In taking this stance, however, the conservator knows full well that the owner will find someone else to do the work, with the possibility that the artifact will not receive an appropriate treatmentor that the treatment will not be properly documented and made available to the public.


Copyright © 1997 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works