I'll address the issue of "greedy" collectors just asThis comment totally ignores one vital piece of information about these objects. In the case of the material which is the subject of the Nostoi exhibition, Italy cannot be labelled as a “greedy acquisitive nation”. All of the archaeological material which has now been returned had not fallen out of the sky into Italy before it was smuggled out of the country. It was dug out of the archaeological record within the area administered by that state. It was then removed illegally from that country by people who presumably knew full well that they were breaking the law. It was bought by “greedy acquisitive” collectors who failed - despite all the warning signals - to check properly where the material had actually come from. It has now been returned to the place from which it was taken as, it is beyond a shadow of doubt, the product of illegal activity.
soon as you've honestly engaged the notion of greedy, acquisitive nations. […] By the standards you uphold, the various treasures recently repatriated to Italy (not, I note, "re[heritag]ed") are unprovenanced and of no scientific value. Why then would Italy want these worthless baubles, and gloat at their return? Why would you, interested only in truth and justice and advancing knowledge, gloat along with
them? Isn't the Italian attitude, mine mine mine, just the "greed" of collectors writ large, and backed, ultimately, by the armed might of the modern state?
As such, some of the consequences of that illegal activity have been undone, though the damage done to the archaeological record of Italy to produce a few saleable collectables is irreversible. There are many more items in US and other collections that derive from the same spate of illegal activity and let us hope that “truth, justice and all that stuff” will eventually prevail here too and the material will find its way back to the place from where it was illegally taken away. Why anyone would want to condone illegal activity and label those who oppose it "greedy and acquisitive" is beyond me.
Phil asks why I would “gloat” along with the citizens of Italy that this material has been returned to that country. I am not gloating at all. I am appalled by this whole sorry business. I am appalled by the destruction of achaeological evidence that the Geneva Freeport photos for example reveal. I am appalled (as anyone who cares about the past would be) by the stories about the smashing of painted pots by diggers and dealers so they can be bought as parts of job lots by foreign museums and fitted together again. I am appalled by the trail of destruction caused by the commodification of information about the past as trophies of “ancient art” and the falsehood and hypocrisy involved in the trade of hiding of the true origin of these objects. That is by no means a legitimate trade. One may be grimly satisfied that some of those responsible may have been caught and punished, but we are all aware that this is just the tip of an iceberg (for example according to David Gill the Nostoi material accounts for only 1% of the Geneva evidence), and that is a cause for despair, frustration and real anger.
The public deserve to be shown the Nostoi material, and praise given to those that, through very difficult, time consuming and frustrating investigative work traced this portion of the material, led to its recovery and the apprehension of some of those believed to be involved. Let the exhibition serve to show the public (who pay for these investigations) the importance of continuing this work to the bitter end and bringing all involved to account. Let the international community viewing this exhibition think very deeply about the antiquities and “ancient art” trade. In particular about its effects on our ability to recover information about the past of the region this material has been looted from, taken from the local heritage of those that live there. That is the knowledge I and other archaeologists would like to see advanced.