In countries such as Syria and Iraq, the humanitarian crises are enormous - but the world’s cultural heritage suffers, too. The tragedy of the ancient site of Palmyra in Syria might be the best-known example of this phenomenon. In June 2015, a 15th-century ceramic tile allegedly looted from Palmyra by ISIS was confiscated by Finnish custom officials for further investigation. This news also made sensational international headlines, but very soon it turned out to be a false alarm - much of the information had been inaccurately reported.
Nevertheless, the case of the Palmyrene tile raised questions about how much Finland is directly or indirectly involved in the international trafficking of cultural objects, such as ancient figurines, coins, cuneiform tablets, or papyrus fragments. Cultural material that originates from museums, archives, or archaeological sites is often smuggled out of war-torn countries to appear on the market in different parts of the world. Do these issues concern Finns at all? And for academic circles, how do we deal ethically and legally with trafficked antiquities and artwork that may not have a clear background?
The University of Helsinki is organizing an international symposium to explore these issues in a Finnish context. Working with Cultural Objects and Manuscripts: Provenance, Legality, and Responsible Stewardship will bring Finnish and international experts together to discuss the illicit trade of antiquities, 5–6 June 2017 at the National Museum auditorium. The event is supported by the Finnish National Committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM-Finland), the National Museum of Finland, UNESCO-Finland, and the Finnish Institute in the Middle East (FIME).
The symposium launches a public discussion of these global issues in Finland. It also begins to formulate policy recommendations for the Finnish government at the national level, a code of ethics for academic research in Finland concerning cultural property, and a toolkit resource to help varied stakeholders to make informed decisions surrounding these complex issues.
We invite interested members of the press and public to register (for free) at: http://blogs.helsinki.fi/culturalobjects/registration/.
On the June 2015 story of the tile from Palmyra, see: https://conflictantiquities.wordpress.com/2015/06/07/syria-finland-russia-iran-france-trafficking-policing-capacity/. ]