Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Brodie on Antiquities Supply and Demand

Neil Brodie (n.d., 'Thinking on Policies', EUNIC - European Union National Institutes for Culture online) discusses the proposed DoS reward of 5 million dollars for disrupting the antiquities trade  and the Abu Sayyaf raid. I was quite pleased to see a fellow Brit drawing attention to the doubts some of us have about the authenticity of the 'documentation' produced by the Americans (see here, and especially here where I have added Brodie's comments, he also mentions (though rather uncritically) the Al-Tamimi account discussed by me here). Brodie discusses the evidence for and geography of the looting, noting that ISIL is not the only group involved ("both Assad and the non-jihadi opposition are also likely to be profiting from the antiquities trade"). He touches upon the effects of the current form of superficial approach to the issue in much of the writing (including archaeological writing) on the issue of protecting sites in Syria and Iraq:
There is an opinion within the archaeological community that highlighting the financial importance to ISIL of the antiquities trade will make it an issue of national security and ensure a strong government response. The danger with this line of reasoning is that the response might be an inappropriate one, aimed more at disabling ISIL and less at protecting archaeological heritage. This seems to be exactly what has happened. Disrupting ISIL’s control of the antiquities trade will not offer secure, long-term protection to Syrian archaeological heritage from the threat of looting, nor will it deal a fatal blow to ISIL financing. 
Brodie's solution to the whole conundrum is therefore a foregone conclusion, and it is one that is being incresingly voiced elsewhere, that we cannot act on foreign agents in the source country to limit the supply of antiquities to the marketplace, we must focus and work together to eliminate the demand.
Archaeological looting in Syria and other countries of the world and the profits made by ISIL and other militia groups from the antiquities trade will only be disrupted by serious and sustained measures aimed at preventing the sale of antiquities on the destination market. But the implementation and maintenance of effective strategies of demand reduction will require time and effort, which is another way of saying that they will cost money. $5 million might just about do it. ----- Neil Brodie is Senior Research Fellow in the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow.
I would differ from Glasgow in that our aim should not be "prevention of sale of antiquities" in general on that destination market. We need to get that market effectively regulated, made transparent and accountable, to ensure that only artefacts of verifiable licit provenance are the subject of future commercial transactions, and then go after the cowboys who disregard the need for this. We need also to undermine public approval of antiquities collecting in general - the PAS included. How difficult can that be?

Vignette: Black Hat Dealers claim that their market behaves like no other, that supply and demand are totally unrelated. They are lying of course.

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