Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Preserve artefacts as shared heritage

The free market in antiquities is itself very old; a new online version doesn't change much. In every era, each society and culture needs to protect these elements of history.

The online sale of antiquities, as reported in The National yesterday, is merely the new face of an old problem.

In fact, the global market in ancient objects of beauty or cultural significance may be almost as old as the objects themselves. Items on sale recently on uae.souq.com included a Persian cup said to date from around 500AD, as well as a terracotta animal figure dated at 2,500BC. Who can say who bought, stole or found such artefacts, or where they had been kept since they were made?

Of more concern as a matter of regional heritage are the objects categorised as Islamic art - made, that is, in and since the 7th century in lands with Muslim populations and rulers. (Despite the terminology, "Islamic art" sold on uae.souq.com is secular, the site's officials say; objects of religious significance are not accepted for sale.)

In the past 14 centuries, treasures and relics have been the spoils of war, targets of theft and victims of mishap. There is now a strong feeling in this region that such artefacts, and not only the most significant or spectacular of them, should remain here and that they should be treated as a common heritage - preserved as a matter of trust, and accessible to the public and to scholars.

This is a natural desire and a universal one: every culture, we dare say, wants to protect and preserve the physical heritage of its past.

In this region, city-states, caliphates and empires have been buried in history, but societies and cultures have been more enduring. Many antiquities testify to that continuity. Abu Dhabi and Dubai, with their prosperity and tourist trades, have been natural clearing houses for artefacts not only from the Arabian Peninsula but from Iran, Iraq and the whole region.

The antiquities of the Middle East-North Africa region have long attracted looters, ethical private collectors, museum buyers and scientists alike. The challenge is to determine which pieces on sale anywhere deserve protection from collectors and profiteers, and then to provide that protection. This last part will often involve the purchase, from government funds, of important items otherwise at risk of being taken outside the region. It should also involve prosecution of illegal trade.

Getting this right will not be cheap or easy. But after all these centuries, we have a duty to preserve the past, for the sake of our future.

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Supporters of unseen India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party prime ministerial candidate and Chief Minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, wave as he arrives to file his election nomination papers in Varanasi. Sanjay Kanojia / AFP Photo

Best photography from around the world April 24

The National View's photo editors pick the best of the day from around the world

 Sarah Geronimo. Courtesy: FLASH Entertainment

Sarah Geronimo brings her star power to Abu Dhabi this weekend

Ahead of her Abu Dhabi concert on Thursday night, we take a look at the Filipina singer Sarah Geronimo’s extraordinary career.

 Visitors look at the medieval inventor Al Jazari’s water-powered Elephant Clock. The clock is on show at the 1001 Inventions exhibition at Sharjah Expo Centre. Photos Antonie Robertson / The National

1001 Inventions: in praise of Islam’s gifts to the world

Down the centuries, from camera obscura to designing a sail that allowed early seafarers to tack into the wind, Muslim scientists have made many significant contributions to science. Rym Ghazal and Asmaa Al Hameli visit an exhibition in Sharjah that celebrates those contributions

 Mumbai Indians fans cheer they team on the opening match between Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders in IPL 2014 at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National

Earn cash back with the IPL cricket in the UAE

Dunia finance promotion allows cricket lovers to earn up to 6 per cent unlimited cash back on any spending they make on a day when an IPL match is played in the UAE.

 Iranian workers at the Iran Khodro auto plant in Tehran on March 18. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

Iran’s love of cars survives devastating sanctions

Sanctions and energy subsidy reductions might have hurt the Iranian automotive industry. But car makers at one factory are still optimistic, Yeganeh Salehi reports from Tehran

 This comparison image shown on Reddit annotated the objects with vehicles from the movies.

Disney confirms that Star Wars: Episode 7 is filming in Abu Dhabi desert

Disney yesterday confirmed that the filming of Star Wars: Episode 7 is taking place in the desert in Abu Dhabi.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National