Erin L. Thompson

25 April 2024

In Brussels

‘Why are you crying, habibi?’ Mansoor Adayfi asked the elephant. He had got into the habit of talking to animals at Guantánamo Bay. Held in solitary confinement for years, he talked to the feral cats who prowled around his cage.

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28 September 2023

At Stone Mountain

Ignoring the many ‘no pets’ signs, a man on the trail to the world’s largest Confederate monument was leaping from rock to rock with a ball python wrapped around his neck. I began to think I hadn’t really understood Stone Mountain at all. 

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14 July 2023

In Koh Ker

Last winter, I visited a stolen goddess at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The label said she was carved in the mid-tenth century in the ‘style of Koh Ker’, an isolated site in northern Cambodia that was briefly the capital of the Khmer Empire. Its distinctive sculptures began to appear on the international art market in the late 1970s, during the Cambodian genocide.

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15 December 2020

The Vessel with the Pestle

As soon as the auction was announced, scholars protested at the sale of potentially looted antiquities to support an organisation that wants to bring classics to the masses (which is a bit like trying to support a charity that helps protect people from human trafficking by auctioning off the services of an undocumented worker to clean your house without pay). Admirably, Classics for All soon responded by withdrawing from the auction.

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17 April 2020

Own a Piece of the (Very Recent) Past

Once, after a lovely evening of drinks and dinner, my date invited me back to his apartment to see the Greek vases he had inherited from his godparents. I’m an art historian who studies the criminal underside of the antiquities market. As he rooted around in his cupboards, I tried to think of the most tactful way to tell him that the vases, bought without any information about their source, had probably been looted from an archaeological site. He finally unearthed them from an old Tupperware box above his refrigerator. The objects he plunked down in front of me had clearly not been looted. ‘Oh, but these are all fakes!’ I blurted out with relief. Way to ruin a date.

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