Must Looted Relics Be Ignored?





Inscribed on Sumerian clay tablets more than 4,000 years ago, the Code of Ur-Nammu may be the earliest known recorded set of laws in the world: dozens of rules written in cuneiform about commerce and taxes, family law and inheritance.

But many scholars won't go near the one largely intact version of the code, and the top American journal of cuneiform research won't publish articles about it. The reason? The tablet was bought by a private Norwegian collector on the open market and does not come from a documented, scientific excavation. According to the ethics policies of the leading associations for antiquities scholars, that means it is off limits.

As scholars grapple with the reality that a growing number of important works — like the Ur-Nammu tablet and the recently unveiled Gospel of Judas — lack a clear provenance, those ethics policies are the focus of heated debate.



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