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Rethinking Engagement with and Consumption of the Past: An Ethical Framework for the 21st Century Antiquities Market

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posted on 2023-03-07, 01:18 authored by Lauren Dundler

The modern antiquities market is a product of colonialism, conflict, and crime. It exists within the broader context of dominant ontologies of the past, which can be harmful to both the deceased and the living. At its core, this thesis addresses a number of ethical and legal issues including cultural heritage crime, colonial collections and collection practices, and ancient world research ethics. This thesis also incorporates interdisciplinary frameworks, such as approaches from postcolonial theory, green criminology, and semiological studies – specifically Jean Baudrillard’s theories of consumption and commodification. These perspectives are applied to an analysis of the antiquities market and ancient world studies, which demonstrate the intersection between colonialism, conflict, crime and collecting. In response to these interpretations, this thesis proposes a framework designed to foster more ethical relationships with the past. The “Framework for Ethical Engagement with and Consumption of the Ancient World” is presented in a series of both overarching principles and targeted recommendations for antiquities market participants. In the context of this “Framework”, engagement can be understood as the myriad of ways in which individuals and institutions intersect with the modern and historic market for antiquities. Consumption broadly refers to interpreting and framing of the ancient world. Whilst treated separately, engagement and consumption are overlapping concepts which collectively codify our modern relationships with antiquity. The guidelines presented in the “Framework” are intended for practical implementation at an individual and institutional level. They could also be used to inform the design and delivery of policy. Based on the recognition of the global nature of the antiquities market, the “Framework” is presented in a decontextualised fashion. This approach allows the “Framework” to have maximum impact in the transnational antiquities market. However, it is intended that the guidelines be modified as appropriate when applied to specific jurisdictions. This approach is modelled within the thesis, with Australia as a proposed site for application. Forging ethical relationships with the ancient world necessitates more than just returning objects to their countries of origin and descendant communities. Instead, it requires both individuals and institutions to engage in the personal and professional work of decolonising their ways of viewing, knowing, and accessing the past. This thesis thus challenges individuals and institutions to act beyond their legal obligations and reconsider the broader nature of their interactions with the ancient world and its (in)tangible remains. It is a challenge to identify and reject (neo)colonial behaviours, practices, and policies which cause harm. Finally, and most importantly, this thesis is a challenge to those of us in the present to put ourselves in the service to the past: to show the same respect and ethical responsibility to the dead and their remains as we do the living.


Forging antiquity: Authenticity, forgery, and fake papyri

Australian Research Council

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Table of Contents

Introduction -- Part 1. Historical and Theoretical Context: Colonialism, Conquest, Cultural Heritage Crime, and Collecting -- 1.1. The Spoils Carried Along in the Procession: Colonialism and Conquest -- 1.2. The Continuity of Collecting: From Antiquity to the Present -- 1.3. Cultural Heritage Crime -- Part 2. The Antiquities Market and Ancient World Studies -- 2.1. The Antiquities Market -- 2.2. Ancient World Studies and Academic Practice -- Part 3. Rethinking Engagement with and Consumption of the Past -- 3.1. A Framework for Ethical Engagement and Consumption -- 3.2. Local Problems: Application to the Australian Context Discussion and Conclusion -- Appendix -- Bibliography

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD

Department, Centre or School

Department of History and Archaeology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Malcolm Choat

Additional Supervisor 1

Amy Barrow

Additional Supervisor 2

Shireen Daft


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418 pages

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