Should a town have the right to display looted antiquities stolen by one of its residents? According to an intriguing piece by Suzanne Daley in The New York Times this morning, the mayor of tiny Aranda de Moncayo, Spain, population 200, thinks they should. A 60-year-old village resident named Ricardo Granada unearthed some 4,000 antiquities using primitive implements, like a metal detector and a backhoe, from a 2,000 years old settlement called Aratikos near his home.
Granada was arrested in March after Spanish authorities were tipped off about two bronze helmets he tried to sell at an auction in Germany. The mayor of the village told The Times that she wanted to see a full archeological excavation of the site, followed by the construction of a small museum, which she believes would draw tourists to the village. It isn’t clear from the story whether the museum would display only newly unearthed antiquities or also the ones already plundered by Granada, but the story raises the murky ethical question of what type of artifacts museums should be allowed to exhibit.Scores of world-famous museums, including the British Museum, New York Museum of Metropolitan Art and Malibu’s J. Paul Getty Villa, have been ensnared in controversies surrounding the provenance of some of their antiquities. According to an estimate by the Archaeological Institute of America, published in a story on the Verge earlier this year, some 85-90 percent of “classical and certain other types of artifacts on the market do not have a documented provenance.”
But is there any difference between items plundered by an invading army or colonial power versus antiquities nabbed by a guy out wandering around after dark with a metal detector? It may not seem very fair for a village to profit from the fact that one of its residents was a thief, but I would visit this museum if it opened. I like to see treasures where they were actually unearthed rather than in a big city museum, far away from their origin. Would you have any ethical qualms about patronizing a museum exhibiting looted antiquities? What do you think Spanish authorities should do with the treasures Granada unearthed?