The Past Sold: Case Studies in the Movement of Archaeological Objects
Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society
April 3 - May 13, 2017
Archaeological artifacts are always moving – out of excavation sites, across geopolitical borders, into museums and private collections. This movement can be positive or negative, authorized or unauthorized, legal or illegal. Mechanisms for the legal movement of cultural heritage include long-term loan programs, regulated market trade, and gifts from countries of origin to individuals or organizations in other nations. Such arrangements have the potential to benefit all parties, enabling preservation, study, and public display. By contrast, illegal movement involves clandestine excavations, unauthorized border crossings, object laundering, and acquisition by cultural institutions and private individuals without a true accounting of the objects’ provenance. Artifacts extracted through these methods are divorced from their past and often decontextualized.
The Past Sold presents the contrasting modes of artifact movement: the legal, state-sponsored sale of Early Bronze Age antiquities from Bab adh Dhra’, Jordan, during the late 1970s, and the illegal looting of archaeological sites in Jordan, Iraq, and Syria that continues to this day. The exhibition, which emerges from the “Past for Sale” research project at the Neubauer Collegium, brings together ceramic pots from the Oriental Institute and the McCormick Theological Seminary, along with unpublished archival documents, maps, photographs, and aerial drone video footage. By calling attention to these materials and the ways they are displayed, The Past Sold invites us to consider new perspectives on the movement and representation of antiquities.
Major support for this exhibition is provided by the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society at the University of Chicago, with additional support from the Oriental Institute, the McCormick Theological Seminary, and DePaul University.