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Hominid/ape/primate fossils - Why arent they sold often?


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Harry Pristis
9 hours ago, bcfossilcollector said:

Harry, with all due respect, I think you may be underestimating the power of the sentimental nature inherent in much of humanity. It is an aspect or rather a defining characteristic of what makes us human. Along with being sentient, highly adaptive and aware of our own mortality we tend to regard our ancestors and   relatives in such a way that the thought that they may end up in a “collection” would make most quite upset. . . . .

This is probably more apparent than true in some modern cultures, and sentimentality is not exclusively human.  I urge you to think about a time when every human ancestor believed in the supernatural -- how else would they understand thunder and lightning or death!  Once you understand the significance of the "death/spirit/spirit world" nexus, it is easier to understand our uneasiness over ancestor remains.  That "upset" is our inheritance from our primitive ancestors.

 

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When I am talking about patrimony laws I am talking about laws that protect against trade in objects that are considered the communal property of society or the state. You can't excavate an archaeological site in many countries because they want control at the national level as to how their cultural heritage will be treated. In the case of many countries, that extends to fossils of any sort as well. 

 

We also have specific laws against graverobbing because we have specific cultural customs associated with being respectful towards our own dead and don't want people digging up grandma to steal her necklace she was buried in or to sell her skull to someone who will turn it into a mantlepiece decoration. We tend to universalize those feelings because it is perfectly reasonable to recognize that someone else's grave should receive the same respect as our own loved ones'. Legal systems like NAGPRA exist to recognize that indigenous peoples have just as much a right to protect their graves as anyone else, and that they have just as much a right to protect their cultural heritage as anyone else.

 

None of this is really about superstition, and that's a misdirection. It's about communities having a right to control the dispensation of their cultural and natural heritage.

 

As for animal parts, many/most countries have some degree of control over the trade in animal parts. It's not like you're going to find elephant ivory traded freely in legitimate marketplaces. So that's also a misdirection.

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20 minutes ago, jdp said:

When I am talking about patrimony laws I am talking about laws that protect against trade in objects that are considered the communal property of society or the state. You can't excavate an archaeological site in many countries because they want control at the national level as to how their cultural heritage will be treated. In the case of many countries, that extends to fossils of any sort as well. 

 

We also have specific laws against graverobbing because we have specific cultural customs associated with being respectful towards our own dead and don't want people digging up grandma to steal her necklace she was buried in or to sell her skull to someone who will turn it into a mantlepiece decoration. We tend to universalize those feelings because it is perfectly reasonable to recognize that someone else's grave should receive the same respect as our own loved ones'. Legal systems like NAGPRA exist to recognize that indigenous peoples have just as much a right to protect their graves as anyone else, and that they have just as much a right to protect their cultural heritage as anyone else.

 

None of this is really about superstition, and that's a misdirection. It's about communities having a right to control the dispensation of their cultural and natural heritage.

 

As for animal parts, many/most countries have some degree of control over the trade in animal parts. It's not like you're going to find elephant ivory traded freely in legitimate marketplaces. So that's also a misdirection.

Restating the laws may in itself be imbued with the anthropocentric bias already raised by Harry. Harry raises an important philosophical question that need not be tamped down due to anecdotes or the legal framework of the treatment of human remains. One must understand that the laws are rooted in belief, such as the Judeao-Christian heritage in which these laws were forged. It is entirely ideological, and just as Gramsci tells us "everything is ideology." To my view, the superstition aspect is not a misdirection, but essential to the discussion on a deeper, philosophical basis.

 

Terms like "communal property" sound nice, but generally lack an operational definition, rendering them motherhood statements. 

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8 hours ago, Kane said:

Restating the laws may in itself be imbued with the anthropocentric bias already raised by Harry. Harry raises an important philosophical question that need not be tamped down due to anecdotes or the legal framework of the treatment of human remains. One must understand that the laws are rooted in belief, such as the Judeao-Christian heritage in which these laws were forged. It is entirely ideological, and just as Gramsci tells us "everything is ideology." To my view, the superstition aspect is not a misdirection, but essential to the discussion on a deeper, philosophical basis.

 

Terms like "communal property" sound nice, but generally lack an operational definition, rendering them motherhood statements. 

 

I think the idea of cultural heritage is an operational one rather than an ideal one. But if Italy for instance says you can't take pieces of Pompeii and sell them because they are held in trust by the Italian government on behalf of the Italian people, because the Italian people want them to remain accessible to the Italian people, that is pretty concrete. Same goes for, say, fossil hominids on South Africa.

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28 minutes ago, jdp said:

 

I think the idea of cultural heritage is an operational one rather than an ideal one. But if Italy for instance says you can't take pieces of Pompeii and sell them because they are held in trust by the Italian government on behalf of the Italian people, because the Italian people want them to remain accessible to the Italian people, that is pretty concrete. Same goes for, say, fossil hominids on South Africa.

From the pure understanding of operational definition, even this fails, sorry. Provide an operational definition of the term and this begins the discussion. All you've done here is provide an example, but an example is not an operational definition just out of basic logic. Operationally define the term, and we have some basis for discussion; otherwise, all we have is ideologically tainted beliefs that have been codified. That brings us back to Harry's point, doesn't it?

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Cultural heritage is the idea that the objects produced by history occurring within the territory now occupied by a nation-state should be protected or administered by that nation-state as a commons. There are some variations where you're talking about minority groups who were historically excluded from citizenship or from participation in society more generally who may lay claim to objects produced by their own parallel societies...you can see this with both African American and indigenous North Americans in anglophone North America, and with Jews, Rom, and Sinti in Europe and the Middle East.  But the idea is pretty clear: these objects produced by past cultures have a value to society that is greater than their monetary value if transformed into consumer goods.

 

In the case of fossils, the argument is that it is important for education and domestic science to have these fossils stay in the country, and a matter of national pride that they are displayed in domestic museums for the enjoyment of the people of the country. This applies also to fossil humans, which is why South Africa, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, etc all have such strict fossil legislation, why sites like Rising Star Cave are strictly protected, etc. It has nothing to do with belief that spirits are lingering at these sites and everything to do with the fact that people want to preserve the sites for the future.

 

Like, during the height of the colonial era, there was a massive trade in human body parts. Including parts of people who were killed by colonial forces.

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4 hours ago, jdp said:

It has nothing to do with belief that spirits are lingering at these sites and everything to do with the fact that people want to preserve the sites for the future.

 

I don't think this is the direct correlation being made.  I think the question goes to the evolutionary fundamentals of thought that eventually gave rise to the taboos, attitudes, and laws surrounding human remains.

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