Tuesday 23 July 2013

Changing Trends in the Antiquities Market or Idle Chitchat?

almost seems these days to be batting more for US collectors and dealers ('If You Believe That Antiquities Looting is Driven by Rich Americans or Europeans, Think Again', Saturday, July 20, 2013). he argues that it is a "naive view" that reducing the demand for antiquities by collectors and museums in the US and Europe will lead to looting of archaeological sites to supply the global market with antiquities will be reduced concomitantly. Rothfield apparently now teeters on the edge of denying
that the global antiquities market is dominated by Western collectors.
The reality is that there are plenty of collectors from other parts of the globe whose demand is more than adequate to fuel looting. But don't take my word for that. Here's what a Greek detective has to say [...]
Mr Tsoukalis believes the most popular buyers are Russians, Chinese and Latin Americans.[...] "We've tracked down ancient Greek antiquities as far away as Colombia - in the hands of drug dealers".
On that basis he suggests that we need to concentrate on "other means" of combating the trade in illicit artefacts rather than just going after American and European public opinion, collectors and dealers. Agreed. I think though we have to be very careful with using such arguments. The dugup dealers' lobbyist Peter Tompa has bounded into the ring ("Reality Check" Tuesday, July 23, 2013) schoolboyishly proclaiming that "it's not our fault!"
Kudos to Larry Rothfield for exposing the fallicy (sic) of the outdated claim that demand from American and European collectors drives looting.  These days wealthy Gulf Arabs, Chinese and Russians are far more likely to buy recently looted material.
"Wealthy Gulf Arabs, Chinese and Russians" - the Moslem "threat", the "yellow peril" and the "Reds" three US stereotypical bogeymen in one breath.

Let us note what the Greek detective actually says. I'll point out first that it is unclear from the BBC article where and when the sting described actually was - and indeed who Detective Georgios Tsoukalas actually is (I'd be grateful for help here from readers). Is he this Independent Law Practice Professional? [Surely not though this one (!)].

What he actually says is that in his opinion Greek looters are looting to sell stuff outside Greece to foreign markets and "the most popular buyers are Russians, Chinese and Latin Americans". He adds the (otherwise unconfirmed) anecdotal information that "Greek antiquities [have ended up] as far away as Colombia - in the hands of drug dealers". Firstly the Colombian link, he does not say if the drug dealer was dealing in Greek antiquities or collecting them. In fact this story is a bit vague, Donna Yates - the go-to lady on South American looting these days -  was querying it on Twitter. I'd like to see some more details on this.

To what extent is Tsoukalas' phrase "Russians, Chinese and Latin Americans" police information and or is it just pub-chat expressing a local variant of the xenophobic stereotypes? Note the lack of a mention of the overland route (through Macedonia or Bulgaria) to German and Swiss markets? More to the point (bearing in mind Tompa's spin), no mention of "Gulf State Arabs".Are these names not quoted here mainly to express the idea that greek heritage is being carted off, "far away"?

Is Tsoukalas really saying that the European and US market in dugup Greek antiquities is insignificant besides the others as both Rothfield and Tompa would have it?

Let us finally note that one reason why the US might not be a "popular" buyer is precisely because of the fact that there is an MOU with Greece and packages containing Greek antiquities run a igher risk of being detained going through that border than, for example, the Colombian one. The MOU would therefore have shut down one sector of the global market  to Greek smugglers.


Damien Huffer said...

The role of rising middle classes in source countries themselves as a new source of "demand" for their own and other nation's/culture's antiquities is also very unexplored, under-investigated. It is a major research interest of mine/my USyd colleague re Southeast Asia.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Damien Huffer raises a good point. The middle classes in source countries themselves are a major source of demand for antiquities. China and Italy are prime cases, but presumably the same is true in places like Cambodia, Thailand and Viet Nam. I'm not sure what's wrong with that conceptually; it helps preserve objects and encourages learning about one's own culture.

Paul Barford said...

yeah, but I suspect Damien did not really read the post very carefully before commenting.

Yes, I have said all along that the Chinese have a far greater right than you lot as collectors of Chinese antiquities, especially when to get them to you lot the stuff is smuggled. Then you have no "rights" to it at all.

Of course the role of source country buyers is well known in the UK - though there collectors tend to be C2s and Ds rather than "middle class". There's nothing "middle class" about Bazza Thugwit and his pals.

What about in the US, are metal detectorists, pot diggers, twitchers and arrowhead gatherers "middle class" Mr Tompa?

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