Europe’s Cultural Heritage up for Sale – Why?

With the global financial crisis affecting the European Union particularly hard, there has been a great deal of talk of how archaeological and historic sites and structures have suffered due to major budget cuts.  An article in The Star, Europe for sale: A controversial bailout for European treasures it comments:

“Two years into Europe’s financial crisis, which has governments slashing spending in a bid to tame runaway debts, the region is facing a cultural calamity for which there is no emergency bailout fund. Historical buildings, churches, monuments, bridges, barracks, archeological ruins and other sites are disintegrating from neglect.

Local governments, desperate to find a way to preserve these sites before it is too late, are making up for budget shortfalls by hanging ads, selling off usage rights and, in some cases, putting the structures themselves on the market.”

This begs the question- Why?

With hundreds of millions of Euros worth of coins and minor antiquities which will never see the light of day, why are they not considering selling off holdings which are of little importance?  This will serve four purposes:

1.  Raise much needed funds to preserve structures, items and museums.

2. Raise much needed funds to fund archaeological and historical projects and programs.

3. Reduce the overall cost of storing, maintaining and otherwise caring for millions of items.

4. Make the public aware of the problems, giving them an opportunity to have a stake in the health of their local archaeological and historic programs.  Something of little importance to a museum or archaeologists is a treasure to a collector.  Having it come with the much discussed “provenance” stating which dig/museum/institution it came from and what it’s purchase helped fund is an excellent way to ensure that future generations have an interest in preserving the past.

When I was a child and I entered the museum gift shop, the first thing that drew my attention were the fossilized shark teeth, semi-precious minerals and other “real” items for sale.  I strongly believe that being able to hold these items in my hands for hours and using my imagination, sparked a love for history and science.

On a recent visit to the American Museum of Natural History, I was glad to see that they still had these items for sale.  My oldest daughter was a part of an excellent museum program – the Young Explorers, via her pre-Kindergarten school where they would explore the museum exhibits and afterwards they were able to handle some of the things they saw.  On my Facebook page there are photos of my (braver) daughter holding cave cockroaches and snakes.  I look forward to cultivating my daughters interests.  This is how people learn – humans are very tactile.  I can only imagine a young boy or girl in Italy or Greece with his or her parents walking through the museum gift shop, being gifted a common ancient coin of Constantine I and the hours of day dreaming that it may spark.

Thoughts?  Comments?

One Response to “Europe’s Cultural Heritage up for Sale – Why?”

  1. Robert Bischoff says:

    Finally someone is making sense. As a former President of a local historical society, I oversaw the careful deaccession of items in the society collection that had to be kept in storage for lack of display area and also couldn’t be displayed for security reasons. We were able to raise enough money to purchase a microfilm reader, have our unique deteriorating collection of l00 years of local newspapers microfilmed and put on a new cedar shingle roof on our 250 year old society headquarters. It works. Making available to the market the coins and minor antiquities now languishing in storage could provide a much needed shot in the arm to European museums and struggling archeological and preservation programs.

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