Monday, 4 June 2012

Looting in Albania

Albania, lying on the Adriatic midway between the Classical civilizations of Greece and Rome is rich in archaeological sites of both cultures, and these in turn contain the sorts of artefacts most sought on the international dugup artefacts market. The archaeological sites of Albania have therefore attracted the interest of treasure hunters, who experts say are getting increasingly sophisticated in their illegal trade, while the authorities remain one step behind. As a result looters hunting for artefacts and gold are devastating Albania’s archaeological sites and in the past two decades have wrought terrific damage to the country’s historical patrimony.
The theft of antiques became rampant in Albania in the 1990s, as the country struggled through a period of anarchy and lawlessness following the collapse of the authoritarian Communist regime. Though the situation has since improved, experts say theft from archaeological sites continues to be a problem.
Archaeologists and activists alike say Albanian sites are regularly targeted by looters. Lorenc Bejko, professor of archaeology in the University of Tirana, says that artefact hunting is still going on all over Albania, such as in the Shkumbin valley in central Albania, in the region of Korca in the south and in Shkodra in the north.
“We have indications that there is looting even in protected areas like the necropolis of the [archaeological park] of Apollonia,” Bejko said. “Everywhere, from north to south and east to west, looters are hunting for buried treasure and artefacts, and the damage they cause is immense,” he added. According to Bejko, 75 per cent of the archaeological sites that he has visited in recent years have experienced looting from treasure hunters, although the exact scale of this problem is almost impossible to measure.. 

Auron Tare, former director of the Butrint Archeological Park says that “Albania’s cultural monuments are facing an unprecedented wave of destruction from people digging for artefacts [...] Cultural institutions seem totally inept in taking legal action in order to stop the looting and these monuments seemed to have been abandoned to their fate”. The article quotes 'Heritage Without Borders', a consortium of 12 groups engaged in the preservation of cultural patrimony in the Balkans. They say that Albania needs to strengthen its laws in order to better define competencies, combat the growing contraband in archaeological artefacts, and to provide for better monitoring and enhanced security of cultural sites.

While our Albanian colleagues may prefer to blame local politicians for the problem, it is clear that those offering money for whatever is dug up and smuggled out are by no means to be absolved from blame in this process. The dealers and collectors who benefit are the real looters. 

Photos, top: Hole several metres deep left by looters who used a mechanical excavator last week to dig artefacts out of a monumental Hellenistic tomb in the Palasa valley in the Delvina region of southern Albania.
bottom; Stone blocks from the tomb's construction scattered by the artefact hunters
(Photos by Auron Tare)
Map for those unclear where Albania is.... 

Besar Likmeta, 'Treasure Hunters Rob Albania in Broad Daylight', Balkan Insight 4th June 2012.

Hat-tip to PhDiva

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For an extensive list of the heritage loss in Albania with an emphasis on the last 20 years, please view the list of stolen and damaged objects here:

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