Tuesday 30 August 2011

‘Massive looting of ancient artefacts underway in Libya’

A Russian scholar warns that massive looting and destruction of ancient artefacts is already underway in Libya. Nikolai Sologubovsky, orientalist, writer and film maker, who spent several months in Libya this year as a correspondent for a Moscow tabloid, is deputy head of a Russian committee of solidarity with the people of Libya and Syria set up earlier this year. He told Russian television “The al-Jamahiriya National Museum in Tripoli has been looted and antiquities are being shipped out by sea to Europe”.

The National Museum houses some of Libya's most treasured archaeological and historical heritage. The collection includes invaluable samples of Neolithic, pre-historic, Berber, Garamantian, Phoenician, Punic, Greek, Roman and Byzantine culture. [...] The scholar accused NATO forces of destroying some of the most spectacular architectural sites included in UNESCO’s World Historical List. “NATO aircraft have bombed Leptis Magna and Sabratha,” said Mr. Sologobovsky [...] Earlier this summer, the government in Tripoli asked Egypt and other neighbouring countries to block the smuggling of artifacts from Libya, but the looting continued unabated. [...] The United Nation's cultural body last week warned international art dealers and museums to look out for artifacts that may have been looted from Libya. UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova said in a statement that dealers should be “particularly wary of objects from Libya in the present circumstances”. She called on Libyans, their neighbours and art dealers to protect the “invaluable cultural heritage”. Mr. Sologubovsky said the UNESCO appeal came too late, too little. “Plunder of Libya’s cultural heritage has been going on since February. I’m afraid it faces the same tragic fate as Iraq’s antiquities[...].
'Massive looting of ancient artefacts underway in Libya’, The Hindu August 29, 2011

The scholar said that rock art in the Acacus Mountains (World Heritage Site) that go back 14,000 years were being destroyed by looters. “They press silk cloth soaked in special chemical solution against rock frescoes and the paint sticks to the cloth and comes off the cave wall,” he said. This is disturbiong as it's easy to believe the story that a pot, statue or coin on offer for sale in a western gallery is from "an old collection" as advertised, brought out in the 1930s, 40s, etc. It's far more difficult to believe that of a professionally transferred piece of ancient rock art. People buying this "ancient art" are surely well aware where it came from and how it got on the market, and yet they'll still buy it. These sites have already been in the news because of the vandalism that has affected them in recent years. Vandalised Rock Art Sites In Acacus

See also Looting Matters: Cyrenaican antiquities: keep watch Compare with somebody else's: "Crying Wolf" (a lawyer working for international antiquity dealers):
"there have been no credible reports about either extensive looting of archaeological sites or attacks by NATO aircraft. Indeed, to the extent Libya's cultural heritage has gone missing, isn't it more likely to have happened due to the sticky fingers of Libya's former ruler and his family?"
As if it really mattered WHO was taking the stuff and supplying them to foreign markets. And PhDiva assures us: "Contrary to silly Russian claims yesterday, [the National Museum]'s safe and has been guarded by the rebels - and no NATO bombs have been dropped anywhere near it". But the article does not state they were.

Photo: Would this look the same on a Wisconsin collector's wall?


samarkeolog said...

I am still concerned that there might be some truth in the claims of a bad source; but it is a very bad source.

Sologubovsky is a publicist for a pro-Gaddafi (and so pro-Assad that it advocates arming the Syrian regime) lobbying group: https://conflictantiquities.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/libya-bombing-looting-lobbying/.

Paul Barford said...

Yes, the report is obviously alarmist, but I thought it worth publicising seeing as everybody else is going on about how well the rebels have secured everything. I think that is going to the other extreme.

Certainly there has been military action around both Sabratha and Leptis and there IS money to be made out of antiquities and a time of civil disorder is a time when one can get hands on stuff not normally "available".

I'd be glad when the dust settles to learn from a reliable source that the concerns were unnecessary rather than the other way round.

samarkeolog said...

Yeah, that's how I feel. However, I would prefer to promote Blue Shield/UNESCO alarmism, rather than this regime-allied "journalist"'s alarmism.

But obviously being the callous person I am, I find the process academically interesting.

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