Saturday 6 July 2013

Campbell on the Internet Trade in Illicit Antiquities

Peter Campbell, "How Crime, Corruption, and Murder Are Hidden in the Elusive Black Market Stages of Antiquities Trafficking", July 4, 2013 asks: "What role does the Internet play in antiquities trafficking?" He states (without naming names) that in recent years "major antiquities dealers known to sell looted artefacts have moved toward Internet auctions and experienced record sales". He stresses that the main problem is not so much with the high ticket items, but the more frequent so-called "minor antiquities".

In order "to examine the role of the Internet in the trade", Campbell focused on a single US-based eBay dugup ancient coin dealer who disappeared from eBay in June 2007. His account - despite the coyness in naming the individual - is nevertheless somewhat incautiously-worded, so I am not going to comment on it beyond noting that it repeats unproven allegations from a numismatic forum about a major theft from Veliko Tarnovo Museum. I'll also just signal that the account of the US side of the story is incomplete. Hopefully in the near future we'll be hearing more about that- though unlikely from the coiney lobby....
[This dealer's] eBay records reveal… seller feedback …total[ing] 51,808 transactions [...]. Sales prices are only listed on reviews left between November 14, 2006, and June 16, 2007. During this seven-month period, 4515 transactions occurred ranging between US$0.99 and US$ 481.50 and totalling US$ 109,109. This equates to an average price of US$ 24.17 per transaction. With 51,808 reviewed transactions, it can be conservatively estimated that [..X..] earned US$1,251,993.85 in the seven years and four months that it operated between 2000 and 2007… [..X..] reveals the element hidden behind innocuous listings on auction sites” (Page 131). 
Campbell summarises:
Internet auction sites’ uniform templates give the appearance of legitimacy; however, in reality there is little to no oversight as to what items are listed on these sites. While obvious items like human body parts are no longer sold on eBay, there exists a criminal element behind template listings.
And of course they look exactly like those transactions that, despite the lack of detail, their sellers swear blind are "entirely-legitimate-just-I've-not-got-the-paperwork".

Find the full article here: The Illicit Antiquities Trade as a Transnational Criminal Network: Characterizing and Anticipating Trafficking of Cultural Heritage, International Journal of Cultural Property, 2013, 20 113-153.

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