Returning archeological artifacts to local communities: the example of the Morgantina Aphrodite

Franca di ValerioCommentary2 Comments

Aidone is a tranquil, rural town in central Sicily (Italy) that recently has become subject of the attention of international news, having checkmated – so to say – two of the most famous and powerful cultural institution in the world, the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the unscrupulous collecting practice for which the obsession with “owning” an unique artifact overshadows due legal end ethical questions about provenance before the acquisition.

Aidone and its Archaeological Museum are now home of the so much disputed Morgantina Silver Trove, 16 Hellenistic silver-gilt items returned by the MET in 2010, and the Morgantina Aphrodite, the statue repatriated by the Getty in March 2011, both illegally excavated and exported from the ancient Greek site of Morgantina, the nearby archaeological centre, in the 1980’s. The Museum exhibits re-contextualize the artifacts according to the site’s history, as retraced by the various field excavations (Princeton University, University of Illinois, University of Virginia, along with the Italian Ministry of Culture) involved in researching and studying this ancient Greek colony.

The restitution of two important and significant artifacts such as the silver trove and the Aphrodite statue is crucially far-reaching, both as reaffirmation of the right to one own cultural patrimony, and as opportunity to use the cultural heritage for helping and improving the economy of local disadvantaged communities through sustainable cultural tourism. The network formed by the Aidone’s Archaeological Museum, with its growing collections, the Morgantina’s Archeological site, and the Villa del Casale – a Roman villa in the near town of Piazza Armerina, which contains the richest, largest and most complex collection of Roman mosaics in the world, and it’s one of 44 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Italy – can be an example of how to preserve and convey historical and cultural values of a specific heritage site in accurate and engaging ways, at the same time integrating its economic opportunities to the area where it is located, and in doing so sustaining and improving the local quality of life.

The advocates of the “universal” museum approach, a museum that contains the “whole world under one roof and preserves beautiful object, otherwise condemned to dispersion and destruction in their place of origin – a rather partial, Western idea than a “universal” one – dispute the ability of communities to protect and present their cultural patrimony in their own territory: the return of the Morgantina’s artifacts proves them wrong.

Photo: The Aphrodite at the Aidone Archaeological Museum (© la Repubblica-Palermo 2011)

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Franca di Valerio

Franca Di Valerio is an Italian museum consultant based in New York City, whose areas of expertise are museology, history of collecting, and repatriation (NAGPRA and international). She earned her M.A. in Humanities summa cum laude from the University of Bologna (Italy), and before moving to New York City she was a curatorial researcher with the Institute for Artistic, Cultural and Environmental Heritage-- the agency of the Emilia-Romagna Regional Government in charge of overseeing management and preservation of collections in public museums, libraries, and historical archives in that Region. In the United States she has been working as Curatorial Advisor for the National Museum of the American Indian-Smithsonian Institution, and as researcher and writer for the Rubin Museum of Art's educational web site Explore Art.

2 Comments on “Returning archeological artifacts to local communities: the example of the Morgantina Aphrodite”

  1. Anonymous

    The website of the Morgantina museum is down … This is a nice way to "present their cultural patrimony"

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