Saturday, 24 November 2012

Huffington Post on the Antiquities Trade: "clandestine, lucrative and often dangerous"


The Huffington Post has an online opinion piece about antiquities looting (Brendan Pittaway, 'Mobsters, Museums and the Twin Towers: Tutankhamun and the Illicit Antiquities Trade ' 22/11/2012). It is based around the tale of Carter's opening of Tutankhamun's tomb and an increasing interest among collectors to get their hands on collectable items, and the way this has been capitalised on by what the author calls "gangsters and terrorists". Over the years, he argues:
mobsters now globalised the trade, generating billions of dollars each year. They ensnared private collectors and unscrupulous institutions who didn't care from where or how objects were acquired. [...] The latter-day illegal tomb raiders, also used mechanical diggers to smash apart historic sites in search of sellable trinkets and used material as collateral in drug deals. Great swathes of land, formerly part of ancient or classical civilisations in the Americas, Europe and the Far East have been destroyed.
he then illustrates the terrorist connection by referring to the story that WTC attacker, Egyptian Mohamed Atta is alleged to have tried to sell artefacts looted in Afghanistan to a German university in 1999 in order to get the money to buy a plane.
thieves have used political upheaval and war in order to cherry-pick antiquities from museums and places of interest. The 'Arab Spring' continues to prompt grave concerns about spoliation with museums not spared from attack. Syria currently alarms the archaeological community in much the same way that Libya, Egypt and Iraq all have in recent years.
It is however the connections between the no-questions-asked market in antiquities and the raising of money to fund criminal and terrorist money that have led to two recent schemes intended to create conditions to stem the black market in antiquities.
Both measures provide structure and the promise of greater knowledge of a topic which, by its very nature, has been clandestine, lucrative and often dangerous.
The first is the team at Glasgow University who has been  awarded a £1 million grant to determine the extent and methods of the criminal trade in artefacts. The second is the announcement that the International Council of Museums (ICOM) is setting up a new intelligence group to monitor illegal antiquities trafficking.

4 comments:

kyri said...

hi paul,do you really believe that the illicit trade is worth"billions of dollars each year",poppycock [now theres a word i bet you havent heard in a while]
maybe 10-15 years ago a 500k greek vase could be sold on to a museum or to a high end collector after passing through the hands of a few dodgy dealers but not now,there isnt a no questions asked trade on that scale.sure the 5k vases are still popping up out of nowhere but "billions of dollars worth a year",im sorry im not convinced and there is no evidence to suggest such a figure.maybe these new schemes will shed some light on the matter,at least on the figures involed.
i agree that antiquities can be used as a source of income for terrorists,or freedom fighters[one persons terrorist is another persons freedom fighter]but this is nothing new,even the great greek patriots like odysseus andhroutos who were fighting the turks in the greek uprising of 1821 were selling on greek antiquities to raise money for the cause[the greek war of independence,david brewer,page 263]
in my opinion it would be easier to sell 5 kilos of heroin than an antiquitie worth 200k,there wont be anyone asking where the heroin come from but the people that can afford a 200k antiquitie would want to know where it had been for the last 40 years.there is still a no questions asked market but nowhere near the scale suggested.
kyri.

Paul Barford said...

Well, the "billions of dollars" does not come from me, I was more interested in the "mobsters and terrorists" bit of the quote (your answer skims round the former).

Yes, I think you are right, antiquities is not "billions", but I think we are talking about millions. (the billions is used mainly with reference to the whole art market, not just illicit antiquities)

I disagree about people asking about provenance. This blog, and David Gill's too are dfull of stories of objects appearing and being bought with dodgy background stories.

In any case, the market is not run on 200k vases, most of it are the shabtis, scarabs, coins, lamps, unguent pots, glass flasks, brooches, pins, seals - little things. Easily pocketed. It is the digging over of sites for objects such as these which is destroying the sites. The "small business" the multiple transactions involving so-called "minor antiquities" which are the cause of most of the damage.


kyri said...

your right,it is the trade in "minor pieces"that is doing all the dammage.
kyri.

kyri said...

your right,it is the trade in "minor pieces"that is doing all the dammage.
kyri.

 
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