The International Committee on the Underwater Cultural Heritage (ICUCH) has sent a letter to the Local government expressing concerns that selling part of the cargo of the Champagne Schooner will compromise the safeguarding of underwater cultural heritage and will confuse the general public in regard of distinguishing between legal and illegal action. The complete letter is published below:
April 29, 2011
AX-22111 MARIEHAMN, ÅLAND
The International Committee on the Underwater Cultural Heritage (ICUCH) is writing to advise you of our great concern to hear that the Government of Åland is planning to sell underwater cultural heritage, more precisely glass bottles containing champagne from the wreck which is known as the Champagne Schooner.
ICUCH is a committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), an organisation which works across various sub-disciplines of cultural heritage to promote best practice in cultural heritage management, from a global perspective. The proposed action to sell has consequences not only for Åland and the Baltic Sea region, but for the world at large.
Selling part of the cargo of the Champagne Schooner will compromise the safeguarding of underwater cultural heritage and will confuse the general public in regard of distinguishing between legal and illegal action. Selling will be seen as a natural part of all archaeological action. Especially if the governmental authority which should act on high moral standards and commonly accepted ethical principles, supports such actions.
The Åland area has a unique underwater cultural heritage in the global perspective, as a result of the specific condition of the Baltic Sea and the long history of seafaring in the region. There are numerous ways of enjoying this common heritage in a democratic way. There is no point of breaking the ethical and moral standards which are commonly accepted in the world.
Selling these items is creating more problems than the monetary benefit can compensate for. We would like to point out that a sale is not only contrary to international standards, but also to your own legislation (Landskapslag om skydd av det maritima kulturarvet, Ålands författningssamling 19/2007), and to the definitions of underwater cultural heritage that this law reflects. In that respect, it is not useful to define the material as something else. Messing with the definition by calling it food or groceries will only result in the fact that additional requirements apply, such as sanitary rules and European regulations on the quality of food sold in the market. It is not possible to undo the material’s character as underwater cultural heritage. If the Åland government persists with the sale, it makes itself liable to legal charges for not upholding its own legislation. Such charges will certainly hold in court, and will be supported by experts in the field.
The Åland Museum-office is considered to be part of the museum-profession, whose organisation ICOM (International Council of Museums) has defined the ICOM Code of Ethics. There are several clauses in this code to which I would like to draw your attention:
a) Section 6.4 states that museums should respect fully all conventions that regulate the import, export and transfer of cultural materials. The 2001 UNESCO Convention clearly opposes the disturbance of shipwrecks for commercial gain through sale and trade of objects. Defining the objects as groceries or food does not remove this issue.
b) In relation to academic and scientific responsibilities, section 8.4 advises that members of the museum profession should ‘refrain from any activity or circumstance that might result in the loss of academic and scientific data’. If sale of artefacts in the market is the result, the presence of an archaeologist at the salvage of Champagne Schooner is no more than a decoy for the commercially driven nature of the project. The archaeologist’s effective role is reduced from designing and executing a high quality research plan to a cataloguing exercise. Commercial interest then is the driving force in prioritizing artefact recovery over documentation, analysis, post-disturbance conservation and site stabilisation.
c) Finally and, perhaps most pointedly, section 8.14, Dealing in Natural or Cultural Heritage, states that ‘Members of the museum profession should not participate directly or indirectly in dealing (buying or selling for profit) in the natural or cultural heritage’. This point should not be overlooked if part of the champagne is de-accessioned or not taken into museum collection.
ICUCH would argue that associating with selling the artefacts from Champagne Schooner would contravene each of these positions in the ICOM Code of Ethics.
ICUCH looks to governmental authorities to take a lead in defending best practice preservation of cultural heritage – in this case in line with the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.
The 2001 UNESCO Convention expresses the position very clearly: “The commercial exploitation of underwater cultural heritage for trade or speculation or its irretrievable dispersal is fundamentally incompatible with the protection and proper management of underwater cultural heritage. Underwater cultural heritage shall not be traded, sold, bought or bartered as commercial goods.” (Rule 2 of the Annex).
ICUCH is extremely concerned that the selling of champagne bottles could do great harm to the international efforts by UNESCO, ICOMOS and ICOM to improve the security and future of archaeological information from sites of underwater cultural heritage.
ICUCH therefore respectfully requests that the Government of Åland reconsiders the selling of champagne bottles issuing from the protected cultural heritage site referred to as Champagne Schooner -wreck.
Obviously, ICUCH is more than willing to help in resolving the current situation.
Prof. Dr. Thijs J. Maarleveld
What do you think? The Local government has decided to keep five bottles for posterity. But perhaps it is a matter of principle?
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