Tang Cargo: To Exhibit Or Not To Exhibit –- What Is Best For This Cultural Resource?

Posted In: Deep Thoughts

For this entry in the ACUA blog series Deep Thoughts we’d like to direct your attention to the Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (LCCHP).  This blog post, written by Laura Gongaware and Ole Varmer, addresses the issue of ethics in archaeological exhibitions.  Laura’s introduction below provides a summary of this timely topic.  For the full text of this blog, follow the link below.

Since the Smithsonian’s announcement last fall that its Freer-Sackler Gallery was to host an exhibit including artifacts from the Belitung shipwreck, the Smithsonian has found itself at the center of controversy.  In 1998 when the Belitung wreck was discovered by local fishermen, the Indonesian government hired the commercial salvage company, Seabed Explorations, to salvage the wreck and eventually sold the collection to the government of Singapore for exhibition in a permanent museum.  As such, the proposed exhibit raises several ethical and legal issues that the Smithsonian has been forced to address.

The current status of the planned exhibition is still uncertain.  In the August edition of Science Magazine, the Smithsonian’s Secretary Dr. Wayne Clough said that  “as it stands now, th[e] exhibit will not come to the United States.”  Clough went on to say that as a result of this decision those who could have learned from the exhibit will now learn nothing, and he believes that the issues raised by this exhibit need to be thought about from a practical point of view.  The Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation has recently posted a new blog which will discuss the legal implications of the Belitung shipwreck exhibit and begin to answer the questions raised by Clough’s announcement, particularly what is best for this cultural resource.

For  the full text of this blog: http://www.culturalheritagelaw.org/blog?mode=PostView&bmi=676757

N.B.  An August 5, 2011  Science Magazine interview with Smithsonian Secretary Dr. Wayne Clough revealed that the Belitung exhibit was cancelled, and not merely postponed as the SI press releases first indicated. For the full text of that interview:  http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6043/694/suppl/DC1