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I’ve got a write-up at Cato at Liberty about the federal government’s massive, SWAT-like occupation of the rural Indiana property of Don Miller, a celebrated 91-year-old local collector who has traveled the globe and whose impressive collection of world and Indian artifacts “was featured in a four part series in the Rushville Republican.” Under various treaties and federal laws, mostly dating to relatively recent times, the federal government now deems ownership of many antiquities and Native American artifacts to be unlawful even if collectors acquired them in good faith before laws changed. [WISH (TV), Indianapolis Star, The Blaze.] More: coverage in two more outlets with a flavor very different from each other, Shelby County News (FBI source stresses Miller’s cooperativeness and suggests federal actions were wtih his consent or even at his behest) and National Public Radio (“seized,” “confiscated”)

Related: Richard Epstein at Hoover on Obama Administration plans to prohibit selling your family’s vintage piano or moving it across a state line. And aside from ivory chess sets, the nascent War on Antiques might take a toll of replica firearms [Washington Times]

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As I note at Cato, antiquities law has been expanding to restrict private ownership of more and more ancient artifacts. The latest targets are numismatists; more on that in an op-ed that I published last week in the Examiner.

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John Tierney at the Times makes the case against heritage repatriation laws.

Antiquities prosecutions

by Walter Olson on December 14, 2005

Melik Kaylan has advice for prospective curator/jailbirds: “The morality around acquiring antiquities parallels that of hunting certain species — it was OK for millennia and suddenly isn’t anymore.” (“A Civilized Solution to Looted Art”, WSJ/OpinionJournal.com, Dec. 14). More on museums in legal hot water: Apr. 28, Dec. 5.

Antiquities trade

by Walter Olson on April 28, 2005

Various nationalist governments and well-intended archaeologists are trying to shut down the worldwide trade in antiquities, but it’s far from clear that declaring governments to be the sole rightful owners of historical relics leads to better conservation or better public understanding of them. As the U.S. government increasingly shows itself willing to enforce foreign states’ claims of ownership in artifacts, collectors in this country are tangled in legal uncertainties and faced with demands that they affirmatively document long-ago provenances, an often impossible task. And some of the “cultural patrimony” subject to demands for repatriation is of distinctly recent vintage: China seeks title to “calligraphy and paintings dating from as recently as 1912″. (Steven Vincent, “Ancient Treasures for Sale”, Reason, Apr.). Inasmuch as governments such as those of China, Cambodia and Afghanistan have themselves been pre-eminent destroyers of their own store of cultural antiquities — the damage done during China’s Cultural Revolution period is incalculable — the dispersal of an ancient culture’s artworks around the world may turn out to be an important safeguard in making sure that in future such episodes at least a portion of the treasure survives the wreck.

April 30 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 30, 2012

  • Because Washington knows best: “U.S. ban sought on cell phone use while driving” [Reuters, earlier here, here, here, etc.] More here; and LaHood spokesman says Reuters overstated his boss’s position.
  • Janice Brown’s Hettinga opinion: Lithwick can’t abide “starkly ideological” judging of this sort, except of course when she favors it [Root, earlier] At Yale law conclave, legal establishment works itself into hysterical froth over individual mandate case [Michael Greve] And David Bernstein again corrects some Left commentators regarding the standing of child labor under the pre-New Deal Constitution;
  • Latest antiquities battle: Feds, Sotheby’s fight over 1,000-year-old Khmer statue probably removed from Cambodia circa 1960s [VOA, Kent Davis]
  • Sebelius surprised by firestorm over religious (non-) exemption, hadn’t sought written opinions as to whether it was constitutional [Becket, Maguire] Obamanauts misread the views of many Catholics on health care mandate [Potemra, NRO]
  • “20 Years for Standing Her Ground Against a Violent Husband” [Jacob Sullum] How Trayvon Martin story moved through the press [Poynter] And Reuters’ profile of George Zimmerman is full of details one wishes reporters had brought out weeks ago;
  • Coaching accident fraud is bad enough, making off with client funds lends that extra squalid touch [NYLJ]
  • Kip Viscusi, “Does Product Liability Make Us Safer?” [Cato's Regulation magazine, PDF]

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It’s another big step forward for the notion of “cultural patrimony,” in this case humoring the whims of foreign governments that wish to suppress private ownership of long-collected everyday antiquities. [Peter Tompa/Cultural Property Observer; my take]

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…of access to tribally unaffiliated Indian antiquities and remains, now endangered by new regulations from the Department of the Interior [Robert L. Kelly, New York Times] Earlier on the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and Kennewick Man controversy here, here, etc.

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Why does the idea of cultural property have so many advocates? “It seems to establish a bulwark against the plunder of antiquities.” And yet how quickly it’s turned into a way of looting premodern artifacts from Western owners whose claim of title is stronger than that of foreign governments or indigenous/Indian tribes. “But if cultural property really did exist, the Enlightenment museum would be an example of it: an institution that evolved, almost uniquely, out of Western civilization. And the cultural property movement could be seen as a persistent attempt to undermine it. And take illicit possession.” (Edward Rothstein, “Antiquities, the World Is Your Homeland”, New York Times, May 27).

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Under the proposed law, backed by Supreme Council of Antiquities chief Zahi Hawass, persons around the world would be forbidden to sphinxbycaviglia.jpg make copies, even for private use, of the country’s famous monuments, scarabs and other Pharaonic survivals. “His comments came only a few days after an Egyptian opposition newspaper, Al-Wafd, published a report complaining that many more tourists each year travelled to the pyramid-shaped Luxor hotel in Las Vegas than to Luxor itself. The newspaper proposed that the US hotel should pay some of its profits to Luxor city.” However, Hawass said that copies of pyramids and other objects that were less than “exact” might escape a royalty obligation, which might get the back of the U.S. one dollar bill off the hook. (Rory McCarthy, “Egypt to copyright the pyramids and antiquities”, Guardian, Dec. 27; “Egypt to copyright pyramids”, AFP/Google, Dec. 26; AP/IHT). More: Coleman.

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July 6 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 6, 2007

  • How to handle illegal alien’s slip-fall suit against supermarket? With some delicacy: jury told only that plaintiff “couldn’t legally work in this country” [Oroville, Calif., Mercury-Register]

  • Sorry, docs: “I hate doctors” beats out “I hate lawyers” as a Google search result [Bioethics Discussion Blog via KevinMD]

  • Virginia adopts harrowingly punitive schedule of traffic fines. Its sponsor: lawmaker whose day job is defending motorists [Washington Post; NRO "The Corner"; Ribstein; our earlier report]

  • A businessman in London is suing Google for “publishing” (by indexing) allegedly defamatory material, and, boy, will the Internet ever be a different place if he wins [Independent (U.K.), Volokh]

  • Federal indictment charges Houston injury lawyer secretly paid $3 million to two Hartford Insurance claims adjusters in connection with $34 million in silicosis settlements [PoL]

  • Mississippi high court rules invalid former AG Mike Moore’s slush-fund diversion of $20 million/year in tobacco settlement money to evade legislative oversight [Sun-Herald, Bader; also this PoL roundup]

  • More RIAA-suit horrors, this time from Washington state [Seattle P-I] Prospects for a counterattack? [Pasquale, Concurring Opinions]

  • California Assembly votes to require pet owners to sterilize mixed-breed dogs and cats, while UK animal rights authority mulls rights for invertebrates [Mangu-Ward and Bailey, Reason]

  • Here come the tainted-Chinese-export suits, with many American defendants on the hook [Parloff, Fortune] Plus: car with the “E COLI” license plate may be driving lawyer to work [WSJ Law Blog]

  • Gimme those antiquities: Peru vs. Yale on Machu Picchu relics [Zincavage]

  • Dick Schaap med-mal case evokes shifting theories from celebrated lawyer Tom Moore [two years ago at Overlawyered]

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“Peru is preparing a lawsuit against Yale University to retrieve artifacts taken nearly a century ago from the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, a Peruvian cultural official said Wednesday.” Explorer Hiram Bingham dug up the artifacts during three expeditions to the site in in 1911, 1912 and 1914. (AP/CNN, Nov. 30)(via Dave Zincavage). For a critique of the movement to prescribe “repatriation” of cultural treasures to the countries on whose territory they were originally found, see the article linked here Apr. 28.

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