CALLS TO ACTION: 2012
The Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (LCCHP) is asking the Senate to postpone the United States Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act, until it has addressed concerns with this bill through open hearings.
The proposed legislation will allow foreign governments to immunize themselves from U.S. lawsuits when loaning art and antiquities to American museums. While LCCHP supports its purpose of cultural exchange, we fear that it would leave victims of theft and looting without recourse to recover their rightful property. By allowing museums to knowingly exhibit illicit artwork, it will also send a terrible message to the public, which undermines the longstanding U.S. commitment to cultural heritage preservation.
Congress has been unable to consider these concerns because of the unnecessary speed at which this bill is advancing. Many interested parties are unaware of it and have not yet made their voices heard. Given there is no apparent reason for such undue haste, we are urging the Senate to postpone this proposed legislation, pending open hearings.
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The undersigned institutions join the growing tide of concern about the National Geographic Channel’s new series “Diggers” and Spike TV’s forthcoming series “American Digger,” both of which are designed to amuse and entertain audiences while glorifying the indiscriminate destruction of American history by artifact hunters. The teaser advertisement for “American Digger” gives a good indication of how little the producers of these shows value the historical record; the show aims to “scour target-rich areas such as battlefields and historic sites, in hopes of striking it rich by unearthing and selling rare pieces of American history.”
America’s cultural heritage is worth more to all of us than the few dollars that the “diggers” will pocket as a result of their exploits. The activities highlighted by these shows destroy the archaeological record, and in many cases, cause damage to the historic site that remains. America’s battlefields and historic sites deserve more respect than they would if they were to serve as the personal hunting ground for treasure seekers and pothunters.
What’s more, by glamorizing this type of activity, these shows encourage similar behavior by individuals who may not understand that in many cases this type of “treasure hunting” is considered criminal behavior. Digging on federal lands without an archaeological permit is against the law, and unauthorized digging on state-owned land is illegal in most jurisdictions. Digging for artifacts on private land without permission is trespassing at best, and theft at worst. Interstate transportation or sale of illegally-obtained artifacts may subject a “treasure seeker” to criminal prosecution under the federal Archaeological Resources Protection Act.
These laws are in place for good reason: our cultural heritage is indeed a treasure – one that deserves to be protected, not looted or destroyed for entertainment’s sake. We urge these two networks to respect our history, and end production and airing of these shows.
More About the Signatories
The Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (LCCHP) is a not-for-profit organization that fosters the stewardship of the objects, places, and traditions that define us as societies, nations, civilizations, and even human beings. We are lawyers, legal scholars, and law enforcement agents --- but also anthropologists, archaeologists, architects, art historians, students, and others --- who champion preservation through the justice system. Through our educational programs and resources, we are also working to prepare a new generation of advocates, as well as educate the public.
Rutgers' Program in Cultural Heritage and Preservation Studies (CHAPS) based in the School of Arts and Sciences provides a unique opportunity to study heritage preservation issues within local, national, and global contexts. Based in the Department of Art History, CHAPS offers a MA in Cultural Heritage Preservation, as well as a Certificate in Historic Preservation, (15 credits), open to undergraduates and graduate students.
The Penn Cultural Heritage Center contributes to current heritage debates by developing a two-pronged approach: combining intellectual research with an outreach agenda. This dual focus draws upon Penn’s longstanding tradition of applying expert knowledge to pressing contemporary problems. Noting that many of the basic questions surrounding cultural heritage have yet to receive proper theoretical attention, the Penn CHC aims to address such questions as what constitutes cultural heritage, cultural properties, communities, and sacred objects; why have cultural heritage and human rights become intertwined; what responsibilities do academics and museums have toward their indigenous, scholarly, and public constituencies; and what is the future of heritage policy and museums more broadly.
SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving cultural heritage worldwide. Its mission is to raise awareness about the irreversible damage that results from looting, smuggling and trading illicit antiquities. Learn more at www.savingantiquities.org.