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Concluding thoughts: Research

Donna Yates discusses how research is vital to the prevention of antiquities trafficking and art crime, and to the return of cultural objects.
In all cases of repatriation, recovery, and return,
another ‘R’ is of vital importance: Research. Intense research into the authenticity and origins of the piece, cross cultural research into native law or other cultural concepts that might be a factor in the case, exhaustive research into the provenance or ownership history of the cultural object in question. This research is truly multi-disciplinary and can involve lawyers to art historians, archaeologists to forensic accountants, scientists to archivists, public servants to traditional knowledge keepers. Because, as we discussed this week, the return of stolen art and looted antiquities is complex, and when we deal with complex topics, we need to draw on diverse skills. I wish I could say that all return cases have a happy ending, but, unfortunately, that just isn’t so.
The return of cultural property can’t eliminate the past sins. It can’t erase scars of colonialism, of genocide, or of exploitation. It is also extremely costly for those seeking return. Lawyers fees add up fast. And the law benefits some groups and some concepts of property and ownership at the expense of cultures that don’t approach things in the same way. And even when a piece of cultural property is repatriated, recovered, or returned, it’s returned from someone. That someone may have purchased the piece in good faith or been a victim of fraud themselves. Should they get no compensation? Ultimately though, the push to return stolen and looted cultural objects is a push for social justice.
It reflects a desire to live in a fairer, more equitable world. Indeed, as I said, the return of these objects cannot eliminate past sins, but it does mean that we don’t have to allow those sins to continue in the present and into the future.

What is the importance of research when tackling antiquities trafficking and art crime? Donna Yates discusses how research is vital to the prevention of antiquities trafficking and art crime, and to the return of cultural objects.

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Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime

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