Home Forums Who owns the past? Who owns the past? Reply To: Who owns the past?

Allie Eby

This is an incredibly complicated question, with equally complicated answers, but I will do my best to reasonably summarize my thoughts on the matter. I <i>personally</i> believe that cultural ‘ownership’ is inherently a flawed idea, and historical artifacts should not really “belong’ to any one person except either the artist, or the person for whom the art was made (or perhaps their living descendants, if such a thing could even be verified). However, that’s not really how these things seems to work in my experience, and ideas of the property management of artifacts are both historically and modernly debated. Artifacts found in Iran might very well ‘belong’ to the Iranian people, as the cultural descendants of the Persian empire. I think that the most moral thing to do would be to let the artifacts belong to the closest modern descendants of the culture that made them, but this isn’t very logistically practical, and I also see the value in placing things left behind by extinct cultures with no remaining descendants in museums for the greater education of the human populace. Much can be learned about all of the cultures we have studied from the art they have made, including groups with a very short history such as the Mycenaeans, and inspiring future generations to learn about these periods in the world’s history is valuable. However, the monetization and past exploitation of cultural pieces (such as the infamous “Mask of Agamemnon” being named and likely heavily modified for personal fame) and the prestige gained by organizations by more or less hoarding artifacts from all over the world (such as the large collection of pieces found in museums all over Europe, many worth millions of dollars) means that there is no truly “good’ way to go about determining who owns an artifact.