Treasures Pose Ethics Issues for Smithsonian

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Amid mounting calls by scientists for the Smithsonian Institution to cancel a planned exhibition of Chinese artifacts salvaged from a shipwreck, the institution will hold a meeting on Monday afternoon to hear from critics.

The contents of the exhibition, “Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds,” were mined by a commercial treasure hunter and not according to academic methods, a practice that many archaeologists deplore, equating it with modern-day piracy.

In an April 5 letter to the top official at the Smithsonian, G. Wayne Clough, a group of archaeologists and anthropologists from the National Academy of Sciences — including Robert McCormick Adams, a former leader of the Smithsonian — wrote that proceeding with the exhibition would “severely damage the stature and reputation” of the institution.

The members of the National Academy of Sciences are not alone. In recent weeks organizations including the Society for American Archaeology, the Council of American Maritime Museums and the International Committee for Underwater Cultural Heritage, as well as groups within the Smithsonian, including the members of the anthropology department and the Senate of Scientists at its National Museum of Natural History, have urged Mr. Clough to reconsider.

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