Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Britain will Hang on to Your Stolen Stuff

The Return of Cultural Objects (Revocation) Regulations 2018
This instrument will revoke the domestic regulations which implement EU Directive 2014/60, relating to the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of EU Member States, so avoiding a one-sided obligation upon the UK to return cultural objects, in the event of 'no deal' with the EU upon exit.
Time was when doing the right thing was simply what one does. Now it seems it has become a regretworthy obligation to be avoided.

Supporters of PAS

The Portable Antiquities Scheme is a partnership project [that]
creates partnerships between finders and museums/archaeologists
to increase participation in archaeology and
advance our understanding of the past

The above seems to me to be a very good analogy to the archaeologists who, despite everything, insist on calling themselves the 'partners' of artefact hunters and collectors engaged in Collection-Driven Exploitation of archaeological sites and assemblages as a source of collectables for entertainment and profit. They seem to be ignoring a whole range of information and other outlooks that suggest that this is a misnomer.

History Trashing in 'Partnership'  (and when is the inquest going to be publicised?)
more partnership
Huge amount of partnership going on here.... 

Vignette: PAS and its supporters

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

The Middle East’s Other Facebook Revolution: Antiquities Trafficking in the Digital Age

Through months of research, Katie Paul and Amr Al-Azam claim to have uncovered a previously unknown digital antiquities trafficking network spanning thousands of people. This important project has filled in a missing link in how we understand transnational trafficking today ('The Middle East’s Other Facebook Revolution: Antiquities Trafficking in the Digital Age', World Politics Review Aug 13th 2018).

The article describes the instability of the past eight years in the Middle East and asserts that the Islamic State gained control of some of the most archaeologically rich territories in the region and  exploited this to maximum effect. ISIL was able to commodify cultural heritage
as a resource that could simultaneously provide financial sustainability and propaganda value, compounding the psychological impact of its terrorism on civilian populations. Notably, it ushered in a new era of terrorism financing fueled by the black market trade in cultural property. [...] The existence of a robust, and largely unregulated, international market for art and antiquities dominated by Western nations provided ample opportunities to launder movable cultural artifacts into the global marketplace—opportunities that are not available when trafficking in oil, weapons or other traditional sources of terrorist financing.  
Once again, we see an unhealthy focus on one of the groups in the Middle East as if it were the only one that mattered. This blog (and Sam Hardy's blog too) has shown time and time again the problems of the simplistic 'blame-it-on-ISIL' model, and it is disappointing to see US academics still coming out with the same old stuff regardless. Search the article for any evidence backing up this claim and it comes down to a single decontextualised object.

The authors discuss the use of social media platforms for this kind of trafficking. Facebook is the most high-profile of the social media platforms that have been used as vehicles for the sale of illicit artifacts; others include WhatsApp, Telegram and Viber. They seem unaware that British metal detectorists (and not a few in other countries) were using Facebook many years ago for networking and coordinating their site-emptying activities. This is nothing new, but the extent to which what they describe happening is now occurring is indeed worrying.
Antiquities traffickers use these platforms to evade the authorities and circumvent regulations imposed by online auction and e-commerce sites like eBay, LiveAuctioneers and Etsy (though these sites are frequently used as well). The current “Community Standards” on platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp fall short of providing the means to report and remove pages and groups that engage in the trafficking of cultural property. While Facebook and other technology giants have had success in targeting the movement of drugs and weapons on their platforms, they have struggled to rein in antiquities traffickers, who have devised their own methods of communication that have helped them skirt rules against such transactions, as well as the artificial intelligence designed to enforce them.
They say they have been studying this 'terrorism financing fueled by the black market trade in cultural property' for the past 10 months.  The complete study will be published in a forthcoming paper.
 The data analyzed so far has revealed a sophisticated network of looters and traffickers who have developed new tools and methods to facilitate their illicit transactions. These include visuals such as maps and diagrams to aid in looting efforts and a system for submitting specific “loot-to-order” requests that are quickly fulfilled by other group members. More broadly, it is becoming clear that social media has brought the world of transnational trafficking to the fingertips of a large number of internet users throughout the region, while streamlining the process of executing individual transactions.
Many of the examples discussing alleged looting-dedicated resources are of Egypt, not Islamic State' territory. It is unclear how these relate to 'terrorism' and how many are merely a contemporary expansion of the traditional 'buried treasure' motifs of modern folk tales in these regions.
Facebook groups dedicated to trafficking, meanwhile, are more like online marketplaces, primarily used for arranging the movement of specific pieces and establishing connections between middlemen and buyers. These groups generally have smaller memberships, with a greater rate of repeat-engagement by members. One of the Facebook pages we examined was operational from 2013 until this past March, when Facebook removed it for undisclosed reasons. Though it had a total membership of just over 16,000, significantly lower than some of the looting groups we examined, some 2,020 members were seen actively engaging and posting on the page with regard to the purchase, sale or theft of artifacts. We have also identified multiple users who are active on several trafficking pages. Some of them offer the same artifacts on more than one page. Of the 2,020 members we studied, 1,552 provided information identifying their current locations. The traffickers come from places like Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Yemen, Turkey and Iran, as well as destinations outside the Middle East. Dozens of users in the United States, Germany, England, France, Belgium and elsewhere were engaged in the sale and purchase of artifacts through the page. [...] What was once an underground industry, accessible only to seasoned traffickers, has been democratized. The proliferation of Facebook and other social media platforms has created a different kind of revolution in the Middle East, one that enables any cultural property thief to operate as a transnational trafficker with contacts and buyers far and wide. While these new digital communities may be difficult to track, by infiltrating them we can better understand how they operate. 
Facebook does not currently enforce an explicit ban on transactions involving illicit cultural property.

Finally, the authors conclude:
 Using Facebook as a vehicle for “stealth” ethnography allows us to see how these groups’ tactics continue to evolve, potentially allowing for the adaptation of new methods to combat the plundering of the Middle East’s cultural riches. But our findings also underscore the fact that we are facing an uphill battle against antiquities trafficking. As criminals continue to adapt, we must adapt with them to have any hope of saving our past.  
I see one problem with this, that archaeologists cannot seem to agree among themselves that anything needs to be done at all, so for example the Helsinki Gang (Suzie Thomas,  Pieterjan Deckers, Andres Dobat, Stijn Heeren Natasha Ferguson, Michael Lewis) recently declared that collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record is not actually all that damaging.  And indeed if you focus on (and publish in) magazines like "the Searcher", I guess you may be excused for not knowing what the rest of us are concerned with. But what kind of 'academic enquiry;' is that?

The Middle East’s Other Facebook Revolution: Looting to Order

Katie Paul and Amr Al-Azam claim to have uncovered a previously unknown digital antiquities trafficking network spanning thousands of people  ('The Middle East’s Other Facebook Revolution: Antiquities Trafficking in the Digital Age', World Politics Review Aug 13th 2018). One interesting sideline on the story they tell is the light it sheds on the controversial story of 'looting to order' about which there has been some debate in recent years among those who study the commerce in portable antiquities. Some scholars (like Sam Hardy) have said all along that it exists, while others (notably Donna Yates) have been skeptical. Paul and Al-Azam say they have proof that it does indeed operate:
 Our research also shines a light on loot-to-order transactions, in which artifacts are stolen in response to specific requests, or “orders,” for material. Until now, there has been little evidence confirming that this actually happens. On Facebook, though, it unfolds in plain sight. On one of the trafficking pages we reviewed, its administrators were making loot-to-order requests less than two months after the page was created. These requests included contact information for the requesting buyers, who were themselves often middlemen. The requests covered particular types of cultural property from particular periods. For example, the administrators at one point indicated they were seeking Islamic-era manuscripts and books that could be made available in Istanbul, Turkey, by a specific date. Other times, they posted requests for Jewish manuscripts, books and artifacts that could be made available in Amman, Jordan. (Amman is a common transit point for traffickers moving material into Israel, which has a large market for Jewish artifacts.)  Responses to these requests varied. Some members would post a comment showing an image of the type of object being sought, illustrating an ability to fulfill the order. Others would simply state that they had an example of the type of desired object, and request to communicate privately with the administrator. Others would post their contact information, such as an email address or phone number, to connect more securely. These loot-to-order requests signify a major evolution in antiquities trafficking. Looters are now targeting material with a previously unseen level of precision—a practice that Facebook makes remarkably easy.
In other cases, photographs and video footage of antiquities and other items are posted on Facebook shown still in situ:
Carved reliefs, freshly unearthed artifacts and even chandeliers in historic mansions have all been offered up for sale with accompanying images. The sellers, in these cases, are simply waiting to identify interested buyers before looting them.  
So,... collectors are indeed the looters.

Object Looted in ISIL territory on Global Antiquities market?

The Antiquities Coalition are among those pushing the 'Archaeological Looting Funds Terrorism' narrative.  They are engaged in lobbying and in the social media and various types of writing. Here is a dramatic public-awareness video they released in April this year attempting to say how looted artefacts bought by careless buyers are funding terrorism in the west:

Published on You Tube byThe Antiquities Coalition 17 kwi 2018

Katie Paul of AC, together with Amr Al-Azam has just published a text in which they claim to have uncovered a previously unknown digital antiquities trafficking network involving ISIL-sourced artefacts which is being hailed asan important contribution to understanding transnational trafficking today ('The Middle East’s Other Facebook Revolution: Antiquities Trafficking in the Digital Age', World Politics Review Aug 13th 2018). In this text, the authors illustrate one artefact that they say is evidence of ISIL-sponsored looting for fundraising:
[...] on-the-ground intelligence gathered by The Day After Initiative, a Syrian-led civil society organization currently based in Istanbul, combined with our own online research, has allowed us to trace the journey of one especially rare, perhaps even one-of-a-kind item. The piece is carved from limestone with four outward-looking, intricately detailed carved faces. The object was probably an ornamental fitting. It was initially tracked by The Day After and documented by its affiliates in June 2015. It originated in territory once held by the Islamic State, most likely Raqqa or Manbij, both cities in Syria, before making its way to southern Turkey. Two years later, it appeared in a post on a Facebook page devoted to antiquities trafficking. We do not know what has become of the piece, as communications about it have been conducted in private. However, its quick journey to the online marketplace suggests that looters are not sitting on antiquities for extended periods
Just as a reminder, this is how Syria looked in June 2015 .The Day After Heritage Protection Initiative (DAHPI) through a 'network of archaeologists and volunteers' has for some time now attempted to collected evidence of trafficking of antiquities within Islamic State territory in Syria. Its co-ordinator is Amr al-Azm (who is on record as stating that through this work we now have ‘all the basic information about how ISIS operates with regards to cultural heritage’ - a claim I would most strongly contest).

It is interesting that this same piece has turned up again in the discussion. There are two other images of this item in the video presented above  the other two come from a dramatic Antiquities Coalition The first (right) is obviously a mockup made of modelling clay, I would guess, for use in the film. But what about the other (below)? This seems to be the same glossy stone as the one featured in the article, though has a bit more earth (like the Palmyra statues also found by  DAHPI and discussed by Sam Hardy here)

The object was 'initially tracked by The Day After and documented by its affiliates in June 2015', but where, exacttly? Was it documented like other small objects being claimed as ISIL looted  in Syria, or was it documented in Turkey ('before making its way to southern Turkey')? If the latter, why is it being ascribed an origin 'most likely Raqqa or Manbij'? Apparently 'two years later' (June 2017?), 'it appeared in a post on a Facebook page devoted to antiquities trafficking', presumably the ones the authors were tracking. The authors suggest that 'its quick journey to the online marketplace suggests that looters are not sitting on antiquities for extended periods' - except they have not produced proof of when the object was dug up, was this a product of looting after sanctions and the Iraq invasion that were stiockpiled until found and released on the market by militants (any militants, not just ISIL ones) in their annexation of a territory?

But in fact was it dug up? The side view with those puffy cheeks and squiffy eyes in the WPR article would not induce me to buy that piece were I a collector, still less the frontal view seen in the video at 0.35. It looks to me personally like a highly dodgy piece, even if it is supposed to be 'one of a kind'. I hope the published paper includes much more detail affirming this is indeed an excavated artefact that ISIL profited from. 

Artefact Hunters are Not Equal to Artefact Hunters, it Seems (Eh?)

'Artefact Recovery Team'
I am a bit disturbed by the underlying attitudes of the PAS-supporter archaeologists who seem to be arguing that that there is no need to change national antiquities legislation to curb collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record (on the grounds that they think they can show that it has little effect on whether sites are damaged by artefact hunters or not). 

I wonder whether they hold these views in a truly transnational spirit. Take UK metal detectorist 'partners' Baz, Steve and Busdriver Bubba to the left. Archaeologists such as Raimund Karl and the Helsinki Gang (Suzie Thomas,  Pieterjan Deckers, Andres Dobat, Stijn Heeren Natasha Ferguson, and Michael Lewis) have all argued in this way in recent weeks.

Dealer Reg,  can be seen at
many rallies all over the country
buying erdefrisch artefacts
 from metal detectorists but
has 'other  (secret) suppliers' too
So, as far as they are concerned, one may presume their good mate antiquities dealer Reg can enjoy the fruits of their 'responsible detecting', and collectors can buy lots of nice collectables, some of which have been vetted and made extra-respectable by being reported to (and recorded by) the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Just as long as it is all 'responsible' and 'law abiding', which of course most of it is as long as the definition of 'responsibility;' is an ultra-minimalist one (just ask first, shut the gates and fill yer 'oles in) and the laws are skimpily laissez faire. All well and good.

But then there are problems with that antiquities market. There are some of us that say that parts of it (not Reg's part 'of course')  are intertwined with money laundering, organized crime and (shock-horror) even terrorism and the arms trade. Well, obviously we'd need to do something about that if that is the case - and who has shown so far conclusively that it is NOT? It is not fully clear where Raimund Karl, Suzie Thomas,  Pieterjan Deckers, Andres Dobat, Stijn Heeren Natasha Ferguson, Michael Lewis and all the rest actually stand on this question (maybe they could declare themselves). Obviously - I would imagine them saying - their 'partners', law abiding Reg, Baz, Steve and Busdriver Bubba cannot be implicated, it is the Others and their antiquities market and artefact hunting that are to blame.

Eastern Artefact Search
 and Recovery Team
So that means foreign artefact hunters Baram, Sidi and Cameldriver Hamid who go out and scour the desert for flint arrowheads and desert-patinated Roman coins to sell to put food on the tables of their families. 'Obviously. there needs to be a law against these artefact hunters, to protect the Global cultural heritage from greedy little brown hands grabbing at it to turn a profit. I would hope that Karl and all the rest would not be advocating scrapping these laws in countries such as Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, even where they may not be working too well (as the current flow of finds onto international markets shows).

Rashid - a professional contact
 of many dealers like Reg
Oh and there is the graspy profiteering of the middleman handler Rashid who turns foreign artefact hunting peasants' found potsherds and partifacts into cash - and then makes a tidy profit himself by smuggling the stuff out [after paying the required bribes and protection money]. I imagine Raimund Karl, Suzie Thomas,  Pieterjan Deckers, Andres Dobat, Stijn Heeren Natasha Ferguson, Michael Lewis and all the rest would not see Rashid as one of their 'partners' like artefact hunters and collectors Baz, Steve and Busdriver Bubba. No. I would not impute them of this, but what I would like to ask them is what is the difference? Where in the transnational context of modern portable antiquities collecting and the commerce in such objects is in fact the line to be drawn and why? Is it merely a matter of skin colour? That is, in fact, a very serious question. One which I would like all those who support the PAS on the grounds that artefact hunting in the UK in some mysterious way 'differs' from artefact hunting and the commerce in portable antiquities in almost the whole of the rest of the world. Why is artefact hunting in Islip in any substantive way different from artefasct hunting in Isin? 

Sam Hardy on the Potential and Limits of Netnographic and Market Data for Analysis of Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record

Those 'discovery-focussed' academics intent on poo-pooing the conservation-based concerns of the critics of PAS-supporter-fluff might do well to have a look at the next piece of work by Sam Hardy (Hardy, S A. 2018: “Metal detecting for cultural objects until ‘there is nothing left’: The potential and limits of digital data, netnographic data and market data for analysis”. Arts, Volume 7, Number 3. Available at: It is a substantial piece of work and adds detail to his earlier study (the one the Ixelles Six/Helsinki Gang incautiously and to their shame tried to trash).*  Here is the abstract:
abstract This methodological study assesses the potential for automatically generated data, netnographic data and market data on metal-detecting to advance cultural property criminology. The method comprises the analysis of open sources that have been identified through multilingual searches of Google Scholar, Google Web and Facebook. Results show significant differences between digital data and market data. These demonstrate the limits of restricted quantitative analysis of online forums and the limits of extrapolation of market data with “culture-bound” measures. Regarding the validity of potential quantitative methods, social networks as well as online forums are used differently in different territories. Restricted quantitative analysis, and its foundational assumption of a constant relationship between the size of the largest online forum and the size of the metal-detecting population, are unsound. It is necessary to conduct extensive quantitative analysis, then to make tentative “least worst” estimates. As demonstrated in the sample territories, extensive analyses may provide empirical data, which revise established estimates. In this sample, they corroborate the detecting community’s own perception that they are ‘beat[ing these sites] to death’.
Sam also summarises it on his blog, where, in addition to all the other useful information, one may glean the snippet:
'in an affluent Western country, the average metal-detectorist may consume 0.32 metal-detectors per year '
So rather like computers and the like I guess. This takes me back to the days when I tried to determine how many detectorists the PAS propaganda of success was not talking of and two metal detector dealers gave me their take on the market size and revealed that they were not as interested in the total numbers sold as much as the number of detectorists who'd be coming back to buy another machine in the near future.

Anyway, the Ixelles Six are a bit tardy in responding to Hardy's answer to their obfuscatory hatchet-job (some of them at this moment are tramping around Lapland looking at what they say is Nazi pottery, an important task, no doubt, that will delay them addressing this issue). Now it seems they have another headache to deal with. 

Hardy, S A. 2017: “Quantitative analysis of open-source data on metal detecting for cultural property: Estimation of the scale and intensity of metal detecting and the quantity of metal-detected cultural goods”. Cogent Social Sciences, Volume 3, Number 1. Available at:
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