After being informed that an extremely valuable 3rd or 4th century statue of a fasting Buddha had been advertised as up for auction by the arts auction house Christie, UNESCO put a halt to the auction and Islamabad’s Department of Archaeology has begun to make inquiries as pertaining to other works possibly acquired by Christie or by the anonymous collector who first supplied it. This follow-up has revealed sixty more pieces of the same period offered for a wide range or prices.
Though the authenticity of the pieces has not been verified in person, Pakistani officials have stated that the artifacts, if real, are of the ancient Gandhara region of Pakistani and demand under UNESCO policy that, as cultural property, the items be returned to Pakistan and the jurisdiction of their Department of Archaeology.
The issue that this article raises has been raised before even on this site, I think; the problem of what to do with the intersection of ancient artifacts and modern culture. It’s a fairly complicated issue because, while on the one hand it is valid for a nation to desire the proof of its own history and accomplishments, but is it really appropriate to then appropriate it from individuals who have spent vast sums of money collecting them? The items listed in the article range from $2000 to $200,000. The issue specific to this case is that it’s not even certain whether the items are authentic; the analysis of the statue and accompanying statues and artworks is based mostly on images from the auction house’s website.
It’s not as if this is the first time that random artifacts have appeared in nations clearly not their place of origin–the Luxor Obelisk in Paris (while it has been returned now) was appropriated and remained in France until the 90s. I just wonder if it is impossible to claim that there’s a sort of global ownership to historical items that makes it almost necessary to put them in museums, or display them where they can be studied by a far wider audience. This view obviously doesn’t lend itself to the practice of art collection, but to me it seems that a nation snatching back random items is almost as limiting as a single individual squirreling them away.