Sunday 5 December 2010

Antiquity Looters and Dealers Investigated in Spain

Good news you will most likely not find discussed on the coiney collectors' blogs.*
In Andalusia the largest province of Spain with a rich cultural patrimony, looting of archaeological sites for saleable collectables is rife. Although the local police forces attempt to prevent it and the illegal trade, it still goes on alongside the existing trade in licitly-obtained antiquities.

In Jaén last week, in an operation by the Spanish Civil Guard and the National Police forty people were investigated and a number of arrests were made in the province in dawn raids on 1st December and accused of crimes against the patrimony. Like the Four Corners raids in the USA which have attracted adverse comment in this regard from collectors, they included support by special forces of both bodies to guarantee security.

The investigation, is still ongoing and but so far individuals from Andújar, Alcalá, Martos, Carboneros y La Carolina, among others are affected. The men are faced with charges of crime against Public Property, money laundering, and (interestingly) arms trafficking. These raids are part of an operation of national scope, approximately a hundred house searches in several Spanish provinces were authorized by the central courts.

It is reported that in Jaén province, a number of arrests were made, including an antiquity dealer and his two children in one town, and in another an agent of the local police, also "a well-known industrialist". In Carboneros agents entered two houses and interrogated metal detectorists who were not detained.

These “piteros” are regarded as the first link of the chain of this illegal business. They supply specialized distributors with objects that can reach significant prices on the black market. A number of them have prior convictions for theft of this type. The businesses which handle the stolen goods most frequently have a facade or respectability, report the Spanish journalists, who emphasise the importance of the Internet in the facilitation of this type of crime, "since it facilitates the contacts between salesman and buyer and helps to safeguard the privacy of both parties". The investigation of such crimes is arduous and ties up police resources patrolling sites and following up chains of the passage of material, when this is done and after searching houses and warehouses, the authorities have hundreds and up to thousands of pieces of looted artefacts on their hands.

In the province, there are three hundred major archaeological sites which are impossible to watch day and night, whatever their historical importance. History lovers, the authorities in Andújar and the region, Fuerte del Rey, Linares, La Loma, El Condado or the Sierra de Cazorla, all know that looting is endemic. The sites most frequently exploited are of Iberian and late Roman date, the objects most frequently traded are coins, fibulae, sculptures and oil lamps.

*If these raids had taken place in Germany no doubt on US blogs like those of Peter Tompa, Dave Welsh and Wayne Sayles would be evoking Nazi imagery in their fight to promote "collectors' rights". The point is that it is not just Nazis who are concerned about looting and the illicit trade in archaeological artefacts, even if US collectors think authorities should turn a blind eye to what goes on under the umbrella of the no-questions-asked market. I think we should take a close look just who is supplying the collectors' market with material.

Source: José Rodríguez Cámara. Rafael Abolafia, 'Cuarenta detenidos en una operación contra el expolio histórico', Diario Jaén, 2nd Dec. 2010.

UPDATE: For later progress in this investigation and its wider context, see here.
Photo: Seized metal detectors on display (file phot, Eduardo Abad/Efe).


blaidan said...

Interesting, though the first sentence isn't accurate as Jaén is a province of Andalusia, which is an autonomous community.

Paul Barford said...

ooops, so it is. I'll just tweak it. Thanks.

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