Saturday, 4 July 2015

Tabloid Accusations and the Dealers' Troll Stables

Mark Altaweel, a near-east specialist from the UCL Institute of Archaeology ('Looted in Syria – and sold in London: the British antiques shops dealing in artefacts smuggled by Isis'), is already being accused by dealers' associations spokesmen of making it up and being involved in "tabloid journalism". This is for the benefit of the slack-jaw hangers-on who buy antiquities. The rest of us can see through their pretended indignation and childish posturing. Frankly when somebody who has spent their professional life studying precisely this sort of stuff that in London dealer he found on open sale "objects that, he says, are very likely to be coming from conflict regions in Iraq and Syria" and "are so distinctive that they could only have come from a particular part of the region: the part now controlled by the so-called Islamic State", I think we may take his opinion as vastly more reliable than a trade lobbyist with no real qualifications in the field and their pathetic protests.
Every time Altaweel zones in on something that seems likely to be from an area now controlled by Isis, the dealer we’re talking to grows vague about the item’s origin. One seller says that some objects, almost certainly Syrian and from the area that Isis declared as its caliphate, were brought in a few months ago, by a private seller who said the goods had come from a family collection. Another suggests that a small statue – for which Altaweel says every type site is either in Iraq or Syria – was bought at an auction. There is never any paperwork. One dealer, an amiable man in a quiet, small store filled with near-eastern objects, told us that he’d acquired some glass fragments very recently, and that they "had likely come out of Jordan". Later, Altaweel tells me: “It’s obviously not Jordanian, so my suspicion is that it’s coming out of Syria.” The piece he shows us – a fragment of a cup or glass container, selling for £250 – is, he adds, highly distinctive of the area. “It’s very early glass and is concentrated in very few areas,” he says.
and the "oops-I-lost-the-paperwork" dealer is supplying a false provenance (either deliberately or is too ignorant to spot that the glass could not have come from where his supplier asserts it did). The end of the article is significant:
Meanwhile, buyers are not getting the message that the purchase of such antiquities is enabling war and terror in the Middle East. 
Indeed, this is why the dealers associations pay huge sums of money to "web brigades" of  Internet trollbots who constantly work to organize disinformation operations primarily by deflecting any discussions on the issues raised by the trade in illicit artefacts onto different tracks. We see the effects all the time on the websites of dealers, their lobbyists and supporters, as well as slack-jaw collectors unthinkingly following their lead.

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