Lords of Marble and the Spear — Extinct

The notion of cultural property has been criticized for perpetuating an “anemic” and finally dangerous view of tradition. As Naomi Mezey places it, “Inside cultural property discourse, the concept of property has so colonized the concept of tradition that there’s not a lot tradition left in cultural property” (Mezey 2007, 2005). As an alternative, what we’ve got are a sequence of pressured alignments between teams of individuals and collections of issues, framed by a preservationist stance that regards tradition as mainly static and inherently good. Criticisms like this deserve a listening to. Nonetheless, it stays the case that appeals to inalienable property kind the strongest argument for fossil repatriation within the absence of demonstrable illegality. If a fossil counts as cultural property in a way related to an inalienability regime, then repatriation claims take pleasure in a basic warrant. This will even apply to fossils acquired by authorized means, particularly if it may be argued that coercion was concerned within the acquisition of the fabric.

In fact, the previous “if” is a giant one. Fossils could not depend as cultural property within the related sense, wherein case arguments for repatriation must undertake a special tack. Maybe such a tack is out there, maybe not. Anyway, it’s completely attainable that no argument for repatriation shall be particularly efficient within the absence of demonstrable illegality. I’m intrigued by Banteka’s argument for reuniting the marbles, however I’m much less satisfied that it applies to the fossil case. The issue is not that the notion of cultural property fails to use to pure objects. Fossils could be cultural property; certainly, “objects of paleontological curiosity” are included inside the scope of the influential UNESCO Conference on the Technique of Prohibiting and Stopping the Illicit Import, Export and Switch of Possession of Cultural Property, signed in 1970. The issue is moderately that not all gadgets of cultural property clear the excessive bar required to depend as inalienable. For this, an object should be constitutively implicated in a bunch’s id and key to its continued flourishing. What number of fossils, or certainly fossil heritages, meet these stringent necessities?

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There’s a sure irony in the truth that it was the “Spear Lord” that punctured paleontological colonialism, drawing an unprecedented degree of consideration to a difficulty that had too lengthy remained out of sight. However the animal (informally) referred to as Ubirajara might not be thus identified for much longer. The paper describing Ubirajara was withdrawn final 12 months from the journal Cretaceous Analysis. Presumably, Brazilian scientists will redescribe the specimen, and within the course of give the species a brand new title. It appears solely becoming that it ought to obtain a reputation like brasiliensis, however we will see. Anyway, it’s Brazilian scientists who will resolve, and that’s finally the purpose.



Banteka, N. 2016. The Parthenon marbles revisited: a brand new technique for Greece. College of Pennsylvania Journal of Worldwide Regulation 4:1231–1271.

Gerstenblith, P. 2004. Artwork, Cultural Heritage, and the Regulation: Circumstances and Supplies. Carolina Educational Press.

Mezey, N. 2007. The paradoxes of cultural property. Columbia Regulation Overview 107:2004–2046.

Radin, M.J. 1982. Property and personhood. Stanford Regulation Overview 34:957–1015.

Wylie, C.D. 2021. Making ready Dinosaurs: The Work Behind the Scenes. Cambridge: MIT Press.


This journal article, which offers a pleasant overview of the problems concerned, and presents an financial argument for reunification

This article from Smithsonian Journal, which examines a current e book on Thomas Bruce

And this current video from Aeon on the historical past of the marbles

For extra on the Ubirajara controversy, see:

This story from Nature’s information division

And this good write-up from Nationwide Geographic (together with the follow-up right here)

Lastly, please see this glorious article on colonial practices in paleontology, printed in Royal Society Open Science

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