Monday 6 February 2012

Focus on Metal Detecting: Karlsruhe Exhibition, "Antikenhehlerei: Das Milliardengeschäft mit der Vergangenheit"

They dig for ancient "treasure", loot everything they can to make money and throw the rest away carelessly: looters destroy the cultural heritage of us all. On their trail are both archaeologists and criminologists. An exhibition on "Kriminalarchäologie" is being shown in the Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe until the end of May. It aims to show recent successes of the investigators against international criminal dealings with antiquities and stolen goods - and their failures.

Polic Chief Commissioner Eckhard Laufer, is the Hessian State Criminal Office for the Protection of Cultural Property in charge and is behind the organization of the exhibition.

There is an interview with him here by archaeologist Diane Scherzler. Laufer says the trade in antiquities is one of the world's largest black markets with a high number of unreported cases. He says that "UNESCO estimates that the sum from the sale of illegally acquired cultural property is six to eight billion € per year". He adds that this could even "be already in the tens of billions, as grave robberies have increased in recent years". Noting the destruction caused to archaeological knowledge he likens it to police crime scene work. If someone removes evidence, the archaeologist can no longer evaluate the remaining traces on the site, as is the same in the case of the removal or disturbance of the evidence studied by a criminologist at a crime scene.

Commissioner Laufer says that in Germany, illegal excavations in Germany are often held as a "treasure hunt", with individuals going out equipped with metal detectors looking for relics from the past. Most of those involved do not see it as a profit-making venture, and some of them are unaware that they are guilty of breaking the law and causing damage to archaeological monuments through their interventions.

Other illegal treasure hunters have often been many years in the business and operate intensively, they know exactly the market price of a find. They are not interested in fame, and do not want to reveal the place where something came from. For this reason they tend to stay in the background and use a front man to approach dealers and museums with the finds they want to sell. This middleman then makes contact with potential buyers and will try to sell the item with a commission. For example, an illegally excavated "hoard of coins that can bring thousands of euros: Everyone is trying to capitalize on it".

Today, Laufer says, trade is mainly conducted on the Internet. For a long time Ebay was a market leader in Germany. This however came to an end when, at the insistence of the archaeological heritage protection services and the police, sellers there were required to provide evidence for the origin of Antiquities. Then the market there broke down.

Advice for Buyers

Asked about ancient items seen for sale on eBay or at an auction and which an individual might like to purchase after ascertaining it is of legal origin, Laufer says that in Germany it is relatively easy.

Archäologisches Kulturgut hat immer eine Herkunft, es fällt ja nicht vom Himmel.
Archaeological heritage always has a source, it does not fall from heaven (or presented to dealers by Coin Elves). In Germany, the conservation laws stipulate that all finds must be reported. Each such recording - which is made by the state - thus leads to the creation of the relevant documents.

Man sollte deshalb immer nach der Herkunftsgeschichte eines antiken Gegenstands fragen: Gibt es dazu Angaben, die belegen, dass der Gegenstand legal geborgen wurde und gehandelt wird? Das kann auch eine Exportgenehmigung des Ursprungslandes sein. Gibt es das nicht, raten wir davon ab, diesen Gegenstand zu kaufen.

"Therefore, one should always ask about the origin story of an ancient object: Are there any data supporting that the object was recovered and traded legally? This can be also an export authorization of the country of origin. If it has none of these things, we do not recommend buying this item". He also advises of course against buying ancient objects offered for sale to tourists in foreign countries. There are many fakes and such objects are generally not released commercially in many countries - and it is illegal to buy them without documents from the state legitimising the purchase, and if they are bei taken out of the country, an export permit. He warns that "viele Länder mit antiken Hochkulturen haben da strengere Gesetze als wir ("many countries with ancient civilizations have stricter laws than we do").

There is also an interesting SWR radio interview here with Muller Karpe on the same page which also contains links to related material, worth exploring.

Hat tip to Paul Zoetbrood

Vignette: Metal detectorist artefact plunderers need to hide their faces in civilized parts of Europe.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.