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Culture Minister Itthiphol Kunplome hailed the efforts of the Department of Homeland Security after a 500 years’ old antique gold crown was returned to Thailand from the US. The 48 year old minister revealed the department was set up by the government around five years ago to track artefacts, which have been smuggled out of the kingdom, and thanked the US Department of Homeland Security, after they also recovered two Khmer lintels from the Asian Art Museum in the US last year. The crown, which weighs about 42.6g, is made of 95% pure gold in the Lanna art form and […]

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Very good, these art works should be returned to their original countries as long as they can be guarded and protected.  

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This is one of those fascinating questions which seem simple on the surface, but are actually exceedingly complex. 

Should the crown actually be returned to Thailand by the US as noted in the article?

On the surface, the post above makes a great deal of sense; taken works of art should be returned to their original countries as long as they can be cared for. 

However, when you begin to scratch the surface of ownership, it gets a wee bit more convoluted. The crown was from a 'Lanna' art form and made 500 years ago. First and foremost, neither Thailand nor the US existed 500 years ago, so there is a questionable claim that either of them should decide what to do. Second, the Lanna State in particular and SE Asia's borders over the last several centuries in general were elastic as hell; who is to say that the artifact wasn't created while the Lanna Territory was under Laotian control? Or Cambodian control? Or, independent control? Or, Vietnamese control? Or, Chinese influence? If it were created while under any of these other jurisdictions, then why can't they make the decision and/or receive the artifact rather than the (non-Lanna) rulers in Bangkok?

Put another way, it is generally accepted that Lanna fell under the jurisdiction of the Siam State roughly in 1776. If the crown was made 500 years ago, then Siam, and its successor state Thailand, have a very questionable and dubious claim of authority over the piece and where it ends up.

Isn't this a case where the guiding principle should simply be 'Possession is nine tenths of the law' and thus the US should keep it? Or, is there some over-arching principle that demands repatriation of items by States? Is there a good and logical method to answer questions like this without the use of force (yes, of course that is where this post was leading)? Is there a 'Rule' to govern situations like this?

This kind of thing leads to some large and fascinating socio-political questions that the planet will face more and more often as distances between us shrink; at what point in history do things become static and set in stone? If there are disputes stemming from the past, how far back do you go to resolve them? Can anyone give me a number?

This small little crown is emblematic of some very large questions we face today; does China's 'nine-dash' map hold water? Who owns temples on the Cambo/Thai border? Who owns temples on the Burma/Thai borders? Do the Provinces/States in Southern Thailand have a case for independence? Do Europe and the US need to pay reparations to Black people (and their descendants) stolen from Africa and enslaved? If so, how specifically? Do the Spanish owe Latin Americans reparations for all the gold they stole over centuries? Does the UK need to return the Elgin Marbles? Does the State of Israel truly have a right to exist based on the idea of a 'Historical' homeland? Do the Brits owe reparations to Malaysians (and a VERY, VERY long list of other peoples) for the harm they inflicted upon them? And, what specific reparations does the UK owe to that very same LONG, LONG list of people colonized? Precisely where is the Chinese/Indian border and what is the justification for any claim?

This little crown seems, on the surface, to have a clear lineage, but actually doesn't. And, the use of historical claims goes way back in human history as justification/rationalization for all sorts of questionable actions and dubious events. 

There are entire tomes of Doctoral Thesis' addressing this very question, but still no definitive answer.

What are we humans to do?

I hope to see the crown when it goes on display.

Just some mental wanderings on the holiday Friday afternoon; happy weekend All!

 

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26 minutes ago, Shade_Wilder said:

Do the Brits owe reparations to Malaysians (and a VERY, VERY long list of other peoples) for the harm they inflicted upon them? And, what specific reparations does the UK owe to that very same LONG, LONG list of people colonized?

Way I see it we put an end to some very nefarious practices being carried out in those countries we colonised, such as eating each other on a regular basis, so they owe us a massive thank you.

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57 minutes ago, Shade_Wilder said:

This is one of those fascinating questions which seem simple on the surface, but are actually exceedingly complex. 

Should the crown actually be returned to Thailand by the US as noted in the article?

On the surface, the post above makes a great deal of sense; taken works of art should be returned to their original countries as long as they can be cared for. 

However, when you begin to scratch the surface of ownership, it gets a wee bit more convoluted. The crown was from a 'Lanna' art form and made 500 years ago. First and foremost, neither Thailand nor the US existed 500 years ago, so there is a questionable claim that either of them should decide what to do. Second, the Lanna State in particular and SE Asia's borders over the last several centuries in general were elastic as hell; who is to say that the artifact wasn't created while the Lanna Territory was under Laotian control? Or Cambodian control? Or, independent control? Or, Vietnamese control? Or, Chinese influence? If it were created while under any of these other jurisdictions, then why can't they make the decision and/or receive the artifact rather than the (non-Lanna) rulers in Bangkok?

Put another way, it is generally accepted that Lanna fell under the jurisdiction of the Siam State roughly in 1776. If the crown was made 500 years ago, then Siam, and its successor state Thailand, have a very questionable and dubious claim of authority over the piece and where it ends up.

Isn't this a case where the guiding principle should simply be 'Possession is nine tenths of the law' and thus the US should keep it? Or, is there some over-arching principle that demands repatriation of items by States? Is there a good and logical method to answer questions like this without the use of force (yes, of course that is where this post was leading)? Is there a 'Rule' to govern situations like this?

This kind of thing leads to some large and fascinating socio-political questions that the planet will face more and more often as distances between us shrink; at what point in history do things become static and set in stone? If there are disputes stemming from the past, how far back do you go to resolve them? Can anyone give me a number?

This small little crown is emblematic of some very large questions we face today; does China's 'nine-dash' map hold water? Who owns temples on the Cambo/Thai border? Who owns temples on the Burma/Thai borders? Do the Provinces/States in Southern Thailand have a case for independence? Do Europe and the US need to pay reparations to Black people (and their descendants) stolen from Africa and enslaved? If so, how specifically? Do the Spanish owe Latin Americans reparations for all the gold they stole over centuries? Does the UK need to return the Elgin Marbles? Does the State of Israel truly have a right to exist based on the idea of a 'Historical' homeland? Do the Brits owe reparations to Malaysians (and a VERY, VERY long list of other peoples) for the harm they inflicted upon them? And, what specific reparations does the UK owe to that very same LONG, LONG list of people colonized? Precisely where is the Chinese/Indian border and what is the justification for any claim?

This little crown seems, on the surface, to have a clear lineage, but actually doesn't. And, the use of historical claims goes way back in human history as justification/rationalization for all sorts of questionable actions and dubious events. 

There are entire tomes of Doctoral Thesis' addressing this very question, but still no definitive answer.

What are we humans to do?

I hope to see the crown when it goes on display.

Just some mental wanderings on the holiday Friday afternoon; happy weekend All!

A very interesting post @Shade_Wilder  in which you make some excellent points.
 

What I can’t see in the article is when these items were taken and where from? If these were taken in the early 1900’s for example, then isn’t it clear who they should be returned to? 
 

Many pieces of art and artefacts were taken by British explorers throughout the 1800’s and 1900’s. We know where they were taken from and hence easy to establish who they should be returned to. I’m unsure of the history of this piece and how it happened to end up in Denver, but historians should know. 

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Not so long ago one could go to the thieves' market in Bangkok, among the stolen passports (your picture provided with entry visa), counterfeit documents ( from any university or government) were several catalogs with pictures of stone artifacts, statuary, etc. Pick what you wanted, return in a week and there it was, crated, packed for shipment. I believe most was Khmer.         

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