A bloke calling himself thedrbob has joined the "Looting Matters" discussion on 'The scale of the market' with two comments which point out that the size of the market in illicit antiquities is undiminished by recent concerns:
The prices realized from these sales and the estimated value of the suggested inventories clearly indicate that all of the anti-collecting hype against the antiquities market is ineffective. [...] The market is robust and is apparently ignoring all of the anti-collecting hype.He later amended this to a question:
The sums realized from the recent antiquities auctions and the suggested value of alleged inventories suggests that the antiquities market is both robust and flourishing. [...] Is one, therefore, to conclude that all of this anti-collecting hype is just that, hype, without any effect whatsoever on the actual market?The term "anti-collecting hype" deserves comment. "Thedrbob" was writing on "Looting Matters" and I really do think it unfair to dismiss the work Dr Gill does (see his list of publications) as mere "hype". But of course dismissive belittling is the preferred weapon of the antiquity collector and dealer (see Sayles' comments in the same thread). I would be interested to learn what "Thedrbob" feels about what can quite justifiably be considered "pro-collecting hype" - the views put out by collectors and dealers to try and convince a wider public that there is no real problem of illicit antiquities, and anyway all this so-called "cultural property retentionalism" is an evil construction based on reprehensible nationalism and applied by corrupt un-American governments and their brown-skinned unwashed ignorant subjects who cant really be trusted as much as an American collector to look after those bits of the world's archaeological heritage that happen to be found in their country. That collectors of dugups are an elite of connoisseurs and scholars not only "passionate about the past", and not only adding to our knowledge of the past, but through their cosmopolitanism and inter-cultural "understanding" leading to the dissemination of peace and love in the world. Now, wouldn't "The Dr Rob" consider that "hype"? So how do you combat the spread of such ideas among the general populace? Erudite papers in obscure archaeological journals on the ethics and politics of archaeological research published in the Netherlands? I bet "The Dr Rob" could not even give the name of one such journal, let alone say what was in the latest issue. Or is there not a place alongside such works for a more populist approach? Is that not what the collectors and dealers not doing? (Except as a milieu, they don't really do the "erudite paper" bit very well.)
As for the reason for the discussions of the illicit trade which "The Dr Rob" labels "just hype", surely the problem is that the concerns expressed are formulated because of and not in opposition to the size of the market in illicitly-obtained antiquities. If it were not a problem, there would be little discussion of it. "Thedrbob" is an idealist if he thinks that once collectors and dealers become aware of the issues involved in illicit antiquity transactions, they'd stop. On the contrary the trade in such items is not only as he says "robust and flourishing" but those involved in it are actively talking back and even lobbying lawmakers to further reduce restrictions on the trade.
Obviously since dealers and collectors will not be persuaded that there is a need to act more responsibly, then they will have to be constrained by external means, and that in turn means that public opinion has to be turned against them. The ideal is a situation where somebody would admit to having a collection of irresponsibly-obtained antiquities with as much alacrity as they would announce they are going to Kenya on a big game shooting expedition or they have a drawer full of freshly-collected Osprey eggs in their study.
"The Doctor Bob" reckons:
What the report (eh?) also fails to recognize is the sheer number of low end e-commerce sites selling antiquities as well.This was later expanded to make an additional point:
To that strength must be added the observation that there are an increasing number of low end e-commerce sites offering a wide range of antiquities at moderate prices.This echoes what another collector said in the same thread:
your way off the mark, i think you will find that illicit antiquities account for far less than you think [...] if you take out the realy expensive antiquities which all have fantastic provenance than you are left in my opinion with a negligible figure.Well, the Looting Matters blog is perhaps not the best of places to claim that top-end of the market items have good provenances (collecting histories), when the whole point of that resource is that substantial numbers of them do not.
There seems to be the notion that because lots of antiquities do not cost all that much, preserving sites from being dug over to produce them is somehow not important. I really do not see the logic of that. A big hole in an archaeological site is no less a big hole if the only artefacts that it produced sold for 200 dollars instead of 200 000. How much money somebody made out of the end-sale really is no mitigation of archaeological destruction. Doctor Bob made an additional point, the number of outlets of such venues where they sell this stuff is "increasing". The point of this is that back in the nineteenth century an antiquity-collecting toff would have easily accepted something like the Euphronios vase in the hallway or music room, or a nice Roman copy of a hellenistic statue of Apollo in the orangery, he'd be unlikely to have a collection of uncleaned Roman bronze coins or fragments of fibulae stashed away in the portrait gallery. These things were rarely collected by the Grand Tour crowd. So where does Dr Bob think these "minor antiquities' are surfacing from? Almost certainly very rarely from any real (as opposed to mythological - "wink-wink" ) old collections. Its not the lack of cabinet toning on the objects that tells us this. Dealers will make up all sorts of excuses why they cannot demonstrate an actual origin in a real old (e.g., pre-1970) collection of licit items for more than a fraction of what they sell. Collectors may believe these excuses (or pretend to themselves they do). The rest of us cannot avoid the suspicion that these dealers are stringing us all along, and deep in their heart of hearts they know - even if they studiously avoided asking so as not to hear what they'd not want to hear - that these recently surfaced items come from all-too-recent digging on archaeological sites to fuel the no-questions-asked market in illicit antiquities.