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 a substitute, what we have now are a collection of compelled alignments between teams of individuals and collections of issues, framed by a preservationist stance that regards tradition as principally static and inherently good. Criticisms like this deserve a listening to. Nonetheless, it stays the case that appeals to inalienable property type 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 via authorized means, particularly if it may be argued that coercion was concerned within the acquisition of the fabric.

After all, the previous “if” is an enormous one. Fossils could not rely as cultural property within the related sense, by which case arguments for repatriation must undertake a unique tack. Maybe such a tack is obtainable, maybe not. Anyway, it’s fully potential that no argument for repatriation will likely 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 throughout 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 objects of cultural property clear the excessive bar required to rely as inalienable. For this, an object have to be constitutively implicated in a bunch’s id and key to its continued flourishing. What number of fossils, or certainly fossil heritages, meet these 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) often called Ubirajara is probably not thus identified for much longer. The paper describing Ubirajara was withdrawn final 12 months from Cretaceous Analysis. Presumably, Brazilian scientists will quickly redescribe the specimen and within the course of give the taxon 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: Instances and Supplies. Carolina Tutorial Press.

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

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

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


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

This article from Smithsonian Journal, which examines a latest e-book on Thomas Bruce.

And this latest video from Aeon on the historical past of the marbles.

For extra on the Ubirajara controversy, see:

This story from Nature’s information division.

This good write-up from Nationwide Geographic (together with the follow-up right here).

And at last, please see this wonderful article on colonial practices in paleontology, revealed in Royal Society Open Science.


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