Sunday, 7 October 2012

The World of Looting and Loot


I have mentioned this before, but  it is worth looking at the Looted Heritage website ("Monitoring the illicit antiquities trade and other acts of cultural heritage destruction"). This is a project of Dr. Shawn Graham, Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities at Carleton University in Ottawa Canada.
This site monitors various social media and regular media feeds for stories and reports about the trade in antiquities, which then get mapped. The more such things are made visible, the better our chances of spotting important trends and developments. It also maps academic work on the problem of the illicit antiquities trade.
What is particularly interesting is the uneven geographical spread of reports sent in by users. This shows the location of reports of looting, in theory at least. The big number '76' just off Nigeria is, I would guess, where the mapping software is dumping accounts of looting in "Africa", it is in fact sited in the sea. At a higher resolution it shows nine reports from Mali, eight from Nigeria and one from Angola (and 59 from the sea in the Gulf of Guinea). The spread of big red dots running across the Middle East and South Asia is no great surprise, but that there have been no reports from Indonesia, Papua New Guinea Australia and New Zealand is. There is nothing from any of the islands across the rest of the Pacific Ocean either.

On the other side of the map is pretty sparse too. One might be forgiven for concluding that very little looting goes on in South and Central America. That, I suggest, is an artefact of how the information is gathered, or rather from whom. Most of the reports are going to be in Spanish or Portuguese, and it is possible that there are fewer Internet heritage activists using those languages than there are writing and surfing in English.

When we get up to North America this is confirmed by the rash of dots. Oddly enough, most of these however are not so much about looting (pot-digging, arrowhead hunting etc) but about the US (and US museums in particular) as a destination for material looted elsewhere. Note the complete lack of any reference to looting (or trade in looted objects) from Canada and Alaska. Again, an artefact of information gathering methods as much as anything I guess, especially as this resource is actually Canada-based. 

When we get to Europe and adjacent areas we see two big dots representing current concerns with looting and destruction in Syria and looted objects from Turkey (again, most of the reports refer to US museums). There are no surprises that a lot of the English language reports refer to looting and looted objects from Greece and Italy. Again its those US museums that are a major subject. Most of Europe (including all of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine) are a complete blank on this map. There's a single dot in Bulgaria, not one for Makedonia. The central European states seem from this map look looter-free (would that this was true). But look at the UK with its liberal laws that everybody who supports collectors say have 'stopped looting'. Well, not on the evidence of this map they've not. There is a big red looter dot hovering right over PAS headquarters in Bloomsbury.

This might be an incentive for folk to try and help shift the red dots around a bit, by reporting information from a wider variety of sources (and originally reported in languages other than English). Reports can be sent to the project here:]

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