Justine Benanty is a qualified pilot but as a maritime archaeologist her time is spent underwater rather than in the sky. At her first dig in Israel she realised that she hated wheelbarrows and got sunburnt too easily to work in the desert, so investigating shipwrecks became her focus. Her project for the last five years has been to tell the stories of the slaves, who were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, through archaeology. It is a science which needs an image overhaul because, she says “there’s nothing cooler than finding […] a shipwreck at the bottom of the sea that no-one has seen for hundreds of years”. She is a co-founder of the ArchaeoVenturers project, a collection of videos and blogs about issues in history and science, which also celebrates women’s work in these fields.
Salima Ikram was born in Pakistan and got hooked on ancient Egyptian artefacts through the pictures in a childhood book. Her fate as an Egyptologist was sealed when she came face-to-face, aged nine, with mesmerising statues in the Cairo museum; she decided then that finding out more about them would be her life’s work. “Archaeologists are people who never grew up” she says. When not lecturing at the American University in Cairo, Salima will be somewhere dry, dusty, and dirty, recording ancient inscriptions or X-raying mummies – human and animal. Her role models in archaeology were women who had been working since the 1940s, but, she says sexism is still a problem and more so in the west than the east. The important thing, she says, “is to do what you want to do and do it very well.”
(Photo: Salima Ikram and Justine Benanty. Credit: Salima Ikram – J. Rowland)
Check out the link for downloading the podcast or listen directly on your computer HERE!
Monuments are a curious concept in modern society – just as the victors often write history, those in power are also responsible for determining what is valuable – what is worth memorializing and what should be forgotten. What defines “good” destruction from “bad?”
Although upon first hearing that question one would likely wonder what destruction of a monument could ever be “good?”
November 9, 2014 was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – an event many would argue as a major turning point toward a more unified Germany, more unified Europe, and a more prosperous West – its destruction overall. Few today would argue that the Berlin wall should have remained intact. Yet, will archaeologists hundreds of years from now consider the destruction of the wall a loss of important tangible heritage? Only time will tell. But today, as nations the world over work to have pieces of cultural heritage repatriated to their homeland, it may seem contradictory that we laud the sale or loss of some of these items yet celebrate the sale of others, in particular pieces of the Berlin wall.
On the one hand, the argument can be made for the sale of such a (literally) dividing piece of history in the sense that it empowers a people to reclaim their society and take back their freedoms. However, once this history becomes antiquity will future minds have changed about the sale of this major portion of history? Even decades later, past tourists are returning pieces of monuments such as those at Pompeii – yet at the same time a piece of the Berlin wall can be found on eBay.
On the left: A man uses a sledgehammer to smash a statue of Lenin during a rally organized by supporters of EU integration in Kiev, Ukraine, on December 8, 2014. Credit: The Atlantic. On the right: Members of ISIS purportedly destroy a 3,000 year old Assyrian statue – a widely condemned move. Credit: Aina
But admittedly, Europe is not my forte – so let’s look at an example that may have more resonance with the current era: the toppling of Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad’s Firdos Square on April 9, 2003 after the US invasion of Iraq.
You’ve seen this scene before – from the invaders of ancient history conquering their enemies, to the demonstrators of Ukraine protesting communism today, to the destruction of ancient societies by modern ones – such as the recent campaign of ISIL today. Why is it that we lament the losses from destruction of the ancient world, while lauding the same types of destruction for monuments today?
Perhaps it is the fact that some believe that time can make something valuable.
Yet, if an object’s worth appreciates with time – are we then undermining the value of our future by not lamenting the destruction of modern history in the same way that we condemn the destruction of our past?
Should we only be condemning the demolition of our past and not our future? Who should determine what is ok to destroy and what is not? These are questions with many answers, and we are looking to you to send us your thoughts!
Here’s some further reading to help you inform your thoughts on the argument:
In the late nineteenth century, common fads for elites involved “mummy unwrapping parties.” Although today many would see this as a desecration of a deceased person, most elite Victorians didn’t see anything wrong with damaging pre-Christian bodies.
Mummies were simply a curiosity of the orient. But as the study of the ancient Near East became a common place academic discipline – particularly after the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone in 1822 by Jean François Champollion – archaeology found its way into the imaginations of the West and the increasingly developing world of popular culture.
Ancient Egypt was used to sell everything from cigarettes to soap. And it carved out its own niche in Hollywood well before the days of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider.
Elizabeth Taylor’s famous role as Cleopatra is still well known in popular culture today as one of the iconic images of Cleopatra – never mind that many historians believe that it was not physical beauty, but wit, wisdom, and womanly cunning that made the real Cleopatra a legend of history. In reality, she is an example of what women should be valued for in society – their intellect and strength of character – but this was not the idealized beauty that Western culture wanted to portray.
Politics of women in history and Hollywood aside – one question remains: do the common misconceptions created by archaeology in popular culture hinder or help the overall discipline?
Some may think that if the public is going to learn about archaeology or history is should be with accuracy from the beginning.
However, here’s my person opinion: As someone who began studying the discipline just at the cusp of the recession and finished grad school with the effects of an economic crisis in full swing, I must say that anything that gets the public interested enough in a discipline to patronize a museum or donate to an archaeological excavation is something worth containing. Most people get into a science one way or another based on a romanticized view of what it is. Unfortunately, cut backs in government funding for research and an economic crisis that has made many funding sources at foundations and universities tighten their belts means that other routes of funding must be sought.
But this is a debate that can go on forever – so what are your thoughts on archaeology in pop culture? Does it damage the mind of the public or expand it?Crowd funding has become a new means of revenue for archaeologists to seek in gathering funding for their research. But with a source of funding that relies on the public, archaeologists must be able to appeal to the internet world’s non-scholars to get their attention – and of course dollars. This kind of appeal would not be nearly as effective if it weren’t for all of the fantasized, glorified, and heroic archaeology adventures that Hollywood and western culture portray – regardless of how inaccurate it is. Those inaccuracies provide an opportunity to grasp the imagination of the wider public and engage them in a way where those misinformed interests can be put to rest in the name of science.
For further info on crowdfunding your archaeo-project and archaeology in pop culture, check these out:
World War II was the bloodiest, deadliest and most destructive war in human history. The National WWII Museum puts battle deaths at 15 million, battle wounded at 25 million, and civilian deaths at 45 million- all unfathomable numbers to comprehend. Memories and reminders of that war are all around us, from politics to economies to cultural institutions and more. However, lying in wait on the bottom of the ocean floor are about 7800 wrecks that were involved in World War II, with 3800 of them in the Pacific Theater alone. Wrecks from WWII are significant because it was the first time where petroleum ships were specifically targeted for attack- some even say that America’s biggest contribution to winning the war was petroleum. Although oil pollution is the most noted risk from these vessels, it can also include threats from munitions, chemical wastes, radioactive materials and others. Damaging activities, both environmental and manmade, that can release these hazardous materials include dragging anchors over wrecks, dynamite fishing, shipwreck looting, more substantial/invasive archaeological methods, storms, earthquakes, and the list goes on. The amount of oil contained in these ships could be anywhere from 757 million to 6 billion gallons according to a 2005 assessment prepared by Environmental Research Consulting and others. (It should be noted that when the term ‘wreck’ is used here, it includes not only shipwrecks but also aircrafts and submarines.)
The President of the Ocean Foundation, Mark Spalding, recently wrote a piece for National Geographic about the hazards of underwater cultural heritage (UCH) towards a healthy ocean environment. Many articles over the last two or three years have debated the issues around the potential for oil pollution from these UCH sites, as these are sites of cultural significance, and in many cases, grave sites. One of the more well known examples of oil pollution is the 1953 wreck SS Jacob Luckenbach, a supply freighter headed to Korea during the Korean War. Scientists were able to pinpoint the shipwreck after decades of questioning why sea life were being killed from oil spills with no apparent source. The cleanup from this wreck alone cost between $18-22 million. The USS Arizona, which has been leaking oil since it was attacked at Pearl Harbor in 1941, is another prominent example where multidisciplinary teams are still working to solve the same catastrophic issue.
A gun on the deck of the sunken U-166 German submarine
There is much debate about how to go forward, despite the simplest solution being to pump out the oil before the tanks are destroyed. No one organization controls, let alone has the ability, to survey and intervene on every potentially threatening wreck in the Ocean- a feat that is nearly impossible at the present moment, even if every organization were to intervene. In 2013, NOAA, as part of their Remediation of Underwater Legacy Environmental Threats (RULET) project, released a report that narrowed down the estimated 20K vessels in US waters down to close to 600, of which they completed 87 individual assessments. This report contained several vessels from WWII, amongst others, and found that only 36 of those posed a significant oil pollution threat and 17 are recommended for further investigation. So if you look at the number 7800 wrecks vs 36 or even 600 wrecks, there is room for debate for how imminent the problem might actually be. Although, certainly no one is arguing that these threats shouldn’t be mitigated for the more hazardous wrecks. And yet, despite all the problems highlighted here, many of these vessels have become artificial reefs where sea life and algae thrive. Plans for solving this global crisis must include measures for minimal disturbance of the sea life and their habitats. Because these UCH sites are by definition ‘underwater’, interested parties must work even harder to keep the public and ruling agencies apprised of the problems, but also these wrecks’ importance to our humanity and history. Conservationists, environmentalists, archaeologists, and others must create mediation plans for the coming years when oil pollution and other, potentially worse issues, arise from these wrecks so that history doesn’t become catastrophe.
Kurdistan is a territory in the south of the Caucuses in the mountainous regions that primarily intersect Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. The Kurdish people have been fighting for independence for over a millennium, but their current efforts can reflect the most recent century of their history; fervently fighting neighboring entities for their chance at independence – but non of their efforts have proven successful.
The current population of the Kurdish people stands between 10 and 15 million. The group’s massive population and long-standing yet fruitless fight for statehood has led the region to be known as the“Invisible Nation”. They are a group of non-Arab people who speak a language related to Persian and are predominantly Sunni Muslim.
Map of Kurdistan region and intersecting nations. Source: Wars in the World
Why does this matter right now?
he terror group ISIS that has swept the Middle East is aligned with extremist Sunni Muslims – killing Christians, Shia Muslims, and any others who do not adhere to their means of extremism in their wake. The Invisible Nation of Kurds, although predominantly Sunni, have served as THE front line against ISIS since the group’s rise in 2014 – holding areas like Kobane lest they fall to the terror group.
Centuries ago, the Kurds were fighting ethnic groups like the Yazidis (you may recognize the groups name from the headlines of Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar). But today, Kurds are joining – and often leading the fight for the survival of this very ethnic group.
However, some of the bravest fighters in the war on ISIS are the women of Kurdistan. Women that have certainly caught the eye of the West.
Female Fighters of Kurdistan
In November 2014, Ruwayda Mustafah Rabar posted an article in Global Voices calling attention the Western ‘obsession’ with the Kurdish female fighters – noting that the women of Kurdistan have been fighters for centuries, and only recently have we chosen to acknowledge their existence.
However, I think the obsession she notes – is more of a captivation. Most notably due to the fact that the West – and America in particular – have been bombarded with images of what Muslim women look like, what their place in the Arab world is, and what their attire is meant to look like – through Western lenses, of course. The Kurdish female fighters do not fit into any of these little boxes the Western perspective has designed for them – so naturally, like anything that doesn’t fit our predesigned molds, they have become a cultural fascination, as opposed to be recognized for the norm of this beautiful cultural diversity that has existed for centuries.
And what else could lead to this obsessive fascination? The fact that the Kurds have units composed entirely of female fighters. In the US, a nation that prides itself on striving for equality, women are not currently permitted in combat after being banned in 1994 – although Leon Panetta announced in 2013 that the Pentagon would lift the ban, it will not become effective until 2016.
Kurdish Peshmerga Forces. Source: Flickr
So why is it that a Muslim ethnic group has created entire units of female fighters, when the Western pillar of equality has not yet done it? Because the Kurdish forces are fighting a psychological and ideological war as they see to #PsychOutISIS. ISIS terrorists allegedly believe that they will “go straight to hell” if they are killed by a woman, and these brave women make that a certainty when they fight.
In an interview with Richard Engel, one of the leaders of the Kurdish female fighting forces in Kobani gave some background to their reasoning for joining their men on front lines and blazing their own path against ISIS.
“We stand and fight, especially here in the Middle East, where women are treated as inferiors. We stand here as symbols of strength for all the women of the region.”
From here in Washington, DC – I can honestly say that they are symbols of strength for women far beyond the region – and though I cannot join their fight I can share their message. They make it clear that #WomenCanChangeTheWorld
All female Kurdish forces. Source: Right to speak
SIDE NOTE: Why did we focus on the Kurds this week?
Taking a look at the women of Kurdistan may seem a bit out of our science and STEM-focused wheelhouse. Aside from our goal to promote strong and inspiring women, the people of Kurdistan were a group I had wanted to shed a light on in particular. My own relatives are members of an ethnic group with a state that never was – Pontus. Pontus was a Greek region of Asia Minor on the south coast of the Black Sea – the Pontian Greek people were ethnically cleansed from modern-day Turkey at the beginning of World War I. I see so many of the struggles and cultural triumphs in the people of Kurdistan that the Pontian community shares, so next week we will be diving further into who the Pontian Greeks were – and are today. Stay tuned to hear about this and other missing history that may not have made it into your old social studies textbooks.
The year 2014 has been a blessing in so many ways for Katie and Justine — We launched ArchaeoVenturers, #AVProject, traveled together for the first time, and have received so much support and advice, both personally and professionally, which has meant the world to us. 2015 seems like it is shaping up to be a year of success, education, exploration, and discovery. We have so many new plans for next year, that it is killing us to keep it secret!! Please join The Digger and The Diver in 2015 and get ready for an adventure!! Thanks for getting dirty with us in 2014!
Sending You All a Happy and Healthy New Year!!!
New Years Resolutions from the ArchaeoVenturers:
Like so many of us this year I will of course be making the obligatory “resolution” to get healthy, work out more, etc. But let’s be honest, we all just tell ourselves that to feel less guilty about the abundance of food we have eaten over the past few months. So, my resolution outside of the obligatory health quest, is to do something I must admit I’m not always good at — listen to the other side of an issue.
As much as I seek to change things happening in the world, I have to learn to be able to change myself and grow first. I’ve always made it a point to view the world through the eyes of the people it concerns – embracing a non-ethnocentric perspective in any nation I go into. However, I have realized that i rarely apply that mentality to issues within my own country. I tend to take my political or social stances on an issue – and when I feel like I have taken what is deemed the “right” choice, I tend to ignore arguments to the contrary. For instance, I support same sex marriage, I believe that for true equality we all must have access to the same rights, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, color, or religion. As such, I tend to ignore the nay sayers, this day in age those still vehemently against same sex marriage are likely not to change their minds, so I have always assumed I shouldn’t bother. But right or wrong, ignoring the other side of any argument only stunts your ability to uphold your view even against the most ignorant of nay sayers. Aristotle once said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Therefore, good or bad, I will be making a much greater effort this year to entertain the other side of any issues I choose to take a stand on – social, political, or scientific.
For this new year of 2015, I would really like to appreciate and understand the fundamentals of life more… if that makes any sense. I feel like the last few years, I have put other obligations ahead enjoying the fruits of my labors, having a life outside of work, making time for my friends and family, not checking my email every five minutes as if the world will crash around me if I make someone wait for a response. There are so many little things that I seem to take for granted that I think I will have time to enjoy later on, but I hope that this year, I don’t allow that to happen. When I travel, generally there tends to not be this ‘grind’ that people live by, and it is truly admirable in a sense. I believe we should all work hard and push towards our goals for family, career, etc.. but I think in this new year, I would like to make an effort to ‘stop to smell the roses’.
Greetings from the ArchaeoVenturers team! This holiday season, we wanted to share our own special holiday traditions from each of our families with you all! These past 3 months since launching #AVProject, we have gotten so much support and received all kinds of positive feedback from people trying to accomplish similar things in life, that we just wanted to say a resounding THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEARTS! SEND IN YOUR holiday family traditions with us!
For so many of us, our most memorable Christmas traditions come as children. My sister and I would impatiently wait at the top of the stairs until mom and dad would get the camera ready to film our faces as we came down and saw what Santa had left. Waking up and waiting for what I am certain was forever, is one of those memories that stand out so clearly. But as I have gotten older and our traditions have evolved I find so much more solace in our recent memories. As kids it was all about the presents – but as adults it’s about the people. I am very fortunate that my family attendance at holidays has remained constant with all of my grandparents, all four of whom were born and raised in Canton just like my parents and myself. Waking up now means straight to the kitchen for a morning mimosa with mom and dad rather than making a mess opening presents. The activities change but the people have not, which is probably the best thing about Christmas. Even though I have broken the family chain of Canton-residency, returning home and having the same atmosphere and company to enjoy year after year is what has made the most important Christmas traditions for me – home is where the happiness is.
I wanted to share a small special tradition that went on for years when I was a young child. My parents, although divorced, lived across the street from one another and this is a very special set of memories that I recall them working together on to make it believable. Every year for weeks leading up to Christmas, my parents would ask us what we wanted Santa to bring us so that they could give the message to our family elves. Now, since we had two homes, my dad’s apartment and my mom’s apartment both had their own set of twin elves (usually with alliterated names like Peter and Penelope) that collaborated with one another. At night, after being tucked in, we would pretend to be asleep and listen at the door for them on the phone. We would hear them secretly on the phone with the elves, telling them how good we had been (or naughty in some cases I’m sure) and what presents we wanted. Then, on Christmas morning, the elves and Santa always delivered. It truly wasn’t until many years later that I realized the ruse that had been played on us as kids, and yet it’s one of my fondest memories. This is one holiday tradition that I plan on continuing one day…
Coming from a country like the United States, where one can easily make the argument that women have close to, if not the most rights in the world, watching countries in the Middle East, especially with what is going on now with ISIS/ISIL/IS, can be incredibly heartbreaking for many reasons. Despite our continuous political arguments over women’s issues, as a nation, the United States continues to be a champion for women’s rights globally. An article marking the eve of International Women’s Day back in March put it succinctly “From ‘honor killings’ to legal restrictions, women in the Arab world face challenges foreign to Westerners.” And yet, only in January 2013 did the USA revisit the effort to put women back into our combat forces, including special operations. Israel, Canada, France, amongst others, are just some of the few nations that already send women to combat.
The reason we did this special episode series of ‘Women Warriors/Female Fighters” for #AVProject was because we wanted to highlight some inspirational women, both historical and contemporary. Clearly, in only 2-3 minute segments each, we can only chat about a very tiny select few heroines (and we encourage YOU to send in your favorites!) but there were a few certainly worth mentioning.
This episode, “Eliminating ISIS/ISIL/IS Terror: By Air” focuses on the contribution of Major al-Mansouri- the United Arab Emirate’s (UAE) first female pilot to fly an F-16 fighter jet and lead the UAE’s air strikes against the Islamic State* against Syria. Not only is she fighting against an active terrorist group, she was one of the first women to join the UAE Air Force academy after women were allowed to join, graduating in 2007. In the media, she has been referred to as ‘Lady Liberty’ and her attack as ‘Operation Desert Maiden’. This milestone was in part due to Major al-Mansouri’s passion as well as the fact that the UAE is known to have the most liberal views on women’s rights in the Middle East. In stark contrast, Saudi Arabia doesn’t even allow women to drive cars or vote, amongst other oppressive laws.
When I first became aware of the Major’s achievements, I read that as a teenager, she too had dreamt of becoming a pilot in the armed forces. Unbeknownst to some (mentioned in this episode), I got my private pilot’s license while I was in high school at Republic Airport in Long Island. Although I never made it to the armed forces (the farthest I got was visiting the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs), because I was instead drawn to archaeology, I still always dreamed I would use my skills as a pilot for my career one way or the other. (Side note, in 2005 I did volunteer to build a life-size version of Wiley Post’s Lockheed Vega, the “Winnie Mae” for the National Park Service as part of Historic Aircraft Restoration Project). I rationalized in graduate school, once I went from air to sea with maritime archaeology, that eventually I could still fly planes for aerial remote-sensing surveys of underwater sites. Years later, it is still a goal of mine, however one that is as of yet, unfulfilled.
What I hope that our audience takes away from this episode and mini-series, is that despite impossible barriers, the human spirit finds a way to persevere. In this case, women throughout history have been often unsung heroes and it’s high time that their achievements be publicly lauded.
“A woman’s passion about something will lead her to achieving what she aspires, and that’s why she should pursue her interests.”- Major al-Mansouri
*The modern activities of IS are hereafter referred to only as ISIS or ISIL, because ArchaeoVenturers refuses to acknowledge active terrorists/jihadist militant groups as a legitimate state/entity
International Archaeology Day is the perfect way for archaeological and cultural heritage academics to give back to their respective local communities. I have become a huge supporter over the last few years of archaeologists taking the time to become involved in public archaeology, community archaeology, local capacity building, and investing in young kids who love exploration and history/science. Education and public engagement are in most, if not all, professional archaeological societies’ ethical or standard professional codes (examples include AIA, SHA, SAA) and it is high time that professionals in the field, make more of a concerted effort to incorporate these principles into their fieldwork and research practices. Started in 2011, International Archaeology Day is described by the Archaeological Institute of America as:”International Archaeology Day is a celebration of archaeology and the thrill of discovery. Every October the AIA and archaeological organizations across the United States, Canada, and abroad present archaeological programs and activities for people of all ages and interests. Whether it is a family-friendly archaeology fair, a guided tour of a local archaeological site, a simulated dig, a lecture or a classroom visit from an archaeologist, the interactive, hands-on International Archaeology Day programs provide the chance to indulge your inner Indiana Jones.” This year, ArchaeoVenturers and Youth Diving With a Purpose co-participated with Archaeology in the Community for their IAD event at the Georgetown Library. Run by Dr. Alexandra Jones, Archaeology in the Community organizes events and activities all year round in the DC/MD/VA region (for anyone reading who might be interested in participating or volunteering). We had several interested children from the neighborhood join us for the activities, such as reconstructing broken ceramics (courtesy of DC SHPO office, organized by Ruth Trucolli) or rolling clay pots with Sara Ayers-Rigsby (all the way up from CRM work in FL) to trying on scuba equipment (which is always a favorite as kids love playing dress up). The number one question, behind the inevitable shark questions, is ‘when can I learn to dive?’ which always makes me quite giddy knowing that, in a few years (you can technically start with PADI at only 10 years old!), we could have a new crop of intelligent and inquisitive young kids becoming divers and scientists one day!
Also on IAD, I was fortunate enough to be extended an invitation to participate in “History, Heroes, and Treasures” organized by the National Archives and Records Administration- which is literally “Night at the Museum”- I wish I had these kinds of opportunities available when I was a kid! The #ArchivesSleepover is described by the Archives Foundation as:”Throughout the night, young explorers investigate – through music, chats with historical figures, games, and more – some of the greatest adventures of all time. Campers will discover mysterious shipwrecks, venture into outer space, explore the wild West, and trek through the rugged Arctic as they explore the National Archives Museum’s treasured records.”All the while, these lucky kids and their parents get to SLEEP NEXT TO THE ORIGINAL CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA- a truly once in a lifetime opportunity-they will hopefully be regaling tales of this night to their children and grandchildren!I worked with David Gadsby of NPS to teach the young explorers how to document artifacts on a shipwreck map (the sitemap of the shipwreck America)- to which they exceeded all expectations. Following that, I was asked to play the part of the Underwater Explorer/Archaeologist (modern day) alongside historical characters Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark exploration fame) and Matthew Hensen (1st African American polar explorer). I donned my full scuba kit for my costume- luckily, I wore a child’s size tank, since we were standing up there under those bright lights for an hour! We were set up on stage, in tv interview format, so that all 100 kids in the audience were allowed to ask us questions. I assume I can speak for my fellow explorers when I say that being on stage answering their queries and helping to educate them about archaeology (not Indiana Jones archaeology), was an inspirational moment for me, knowing how genuinely interested these students and parents were in science and history.Overall, it was an outstanding year for International Archaeology Day and for getting young kids interested in maritime archaeology – I cannot wait to be invited back next year!
There are many outdated laws and regulations concerning heritage and site protection around the world. However, with their recent change in government, India has recognized the necessity of revisiting their cultural resources legislation. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has decided to push for an update to their 1972 Antiquities and Art Treasures Act (AAT). In their belief, this Act has encouraged illegal looting of Indian antiquities and has made it more difficult for legitimate persons/dealers to obtain licenses for private antiquities ownership. While there is no ban on private ownership of antiquities, one must still obtain a license/submit registration to own them. The ASI has argued that if the law is updated, the black market for illegal items will slow down, bringing more transparency to their legal domestic trade.
The ASI has previously attempted to change the law to be more compliant with their view, but so far their efforts have been stonewalled. If the ASI were in fact able to pass a new Act or an updated version, does this actually indicate that illegal looting will subside? Or, will it merely make it easier for those persons who already want to abide by the AAT law to comply, and not in fact dissuade those looting for subsistence or other fraudulent reasons? It isn’t inconceivable that once registered, these items, because of their new transparency to the government and other dealers, will become targets for seizure by the state or museums. In that same vein, people may be persuaded by the availability of permits and amplify their search for archaeological sites and artifacts.
To be clear, I am certainly not arguing that the ASI should not attempt to update these laws- this law created in 1972 must be revisited by Indian lawmakers and heritage managers. However, I play the devil’s advocate when I question whether or not this will in fact make a marked improvement on looting in the country. Perhaps an educational component about the economic incentive fueled by cultural tourism, in addition to the mere redrafting of legislation, would encourage those Indian citizens to become stewards of their own heritage, instead of incentivizing them to own/sell.