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The Futures of Our Pasts

Ethical Implications of Collecting Antiquities in the Twenty-first Century

Edited by Michael A. Adler and Susan Benton Bruning

Ownership of “the past”—a concept invoking age-old struggles to possess and control ancient objects—is an essential theme in understanding our global cultural heritage. Beyond ownership, however, lies the need for stewardship: the responsibility of owners, possessors, and others interested in ancient objects to serve as custodians for the benefit of present and future generations. Peru is battling Yale University over artifacts from Machu Picchu, Italy is demanding the return of treasured objects from museums and collectors alike, and Native American tribes and other indigenous communities seek to reclaim important cultural items and rebury human remains and funerary objects taken from their lands. In the middle of this roiling debate over who has the right to collect and display antiquities, a group of scholars convened to debate differing perspectives on the ethics of antiquities collecting. This volume is one outgrowth of those efforts.

2012. 136 pp., 9 figures, 1 table, notes, references, index, 7 x 10

Contributors: Michael A. Adler, Alex W. Barker, Susan Benton Bruning, Emma C. Bunker, Torkom Demirjian, David Freidel, Patty Gerstenblith, John Henry Merryman, Michelle Rich, Donny George Youkhanna

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The Futures of Our Pasts explores the finely nuanced margins that separate stewardship from ownership, provenience from provenance—key concepts when it comes to understanding the politicization of our collective history. By largely transcending legalities, this free-ranging interchange addresses the deeper ethical foundations of appropriate and inappropriate avenues of managing ancient cultural objects. Readers should expect little consensus here—beyond a universal condemnation of unrestrained looting and destruction, this is a conversation about still-contested ground. Does the world actually share a common human heritage populated by antiquities and other cultural objects from remote eras? Can (and should) global preservation initiatives transcend national boundaries and interests? The Futures of Our Pasts provides a timely and measured contribution to this increasingly shrill conversation.”
—David Hurst Thomas, Curator of North American Archaeology, American Museum of Natural History

The Futures of Our Pasts tackles a timely and vitally important topic: the legal, ethical, social, and political dimensions of the antiquities market. Although this topic is buttressed by an extensive literature, all too often it is only one side speaking out (or against) the other. Not so with this balanced examination.”
—Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, Curator of Anthropology, Denver Museum of Nature and Science


  1. Introduction
    Susan Benton Bruning and Michael A. Adler
  2. Transcending the Tangible: Museum Fiduciary Duties in the Age of Repatriation
    Susan Benton Bruning
  3. Provenience, Provenance, and Context(s)
    Alex W. Barker
  4. The Protection of the Past by Intelligently Managing the Present and the Future
    Emma C. Bunker
  5. The More the Merrier: Case Studies and Lessons Learned about Collaboration between Archaeological Projects, Museums, and Countries of Origin
    David Freidel and Michelle Rich
  6. Thinking about the Sevso Treasure
    John Henry Merryman
  7. Has the Market in Antiquities Changed in Light of Recent Legal Developments?
    Patty Gerstenblith
  8. Commentary: Is It Ethics or Hypocrisy?
    Torkom Demirjian
  9. Commentary: Who Owns the Past?
    Donny George Youkhanna
  10. The Futures of Our Many Pasts: Challenging the Fallacies and Finding Common (Battle) Grounds
    Michael A. Adler
There are no working papers for this book at the present time.