Thursday 26 June 2014

More Blood Antiquities, Who Cares?

"Prospective buyers should be asking
themselves one key question, says Hardy: "What
are the chances that my money is going to buy bullets?"
Sam Hardy, quoted by National Geographic.

Heather Pringle, 'Plundering the Past, ISIS Cashing in on Looted Antiquities to Fuel Iraq Insurgency  ' national Geographic, June 26, 2014) uses different terminology in her more recent article in the series 'Plundering the Past'. She's discussing 'the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, better known as ISIS', a group of extremist Sunni Muslim militants, and raises the question of where it has got its funds from.
Much evidence suggests that ISIS cashed in on the Syrian oil fields it captured. But two weeks ago, Iraqi intelligence officers discovered new sources of its income, according to a report in the Guardian newspaper. While securing the safe house of a dead ISIS commander, they seized more than 160 computer flash drives containing detailed financial records of the insurgents. Listed among ISIS's key financial transactions were records of illicit antiquity trafficking.
She quotes the looting which we know has been going on in northern Syria during the civil war there, using as an illustration those truly shocking shots of Apamea
Sam Hardy, an archaeologist at University College London, who studies the trade in illicit antiquities, notes that insurgents and paramilitaries generally enter the trade in at least one of three ways: by running a trafficking network, facilitating smuggling through offering a service, or levying a tax on traffickers who move looted artifacts through their territory. Hardy suspects that ISIS commanders are likely imposing a levy on smugglers. ISIS "looks like they want to function as a state, so in that sense they would at least have to be doing taxation," Hardy says. But that may not be the end of it. "The talk is that they are also running the oil management and smuggling operations," Hardy adds.
Pringle however has rather too high an opinion of collectors. It's somewhat naive to say:
Clearly, collectors of Syrian and Iraqi antiquities need to exercise caution before making any purchases in the days to come. Some unscrupulous dealers are highly adept at laundering looted artifacts.
Well, they don't do they?  They stick it online with a little note saying "from an old dealer's stock" or "from an anonymous Swiss collection", or "with Jizz Scraggins" or some such meaningless dealer-mumbo-jumbo, knowing full well that most collectors will never ask for more, ask-no-questions-get-told-no-lies. I bet there are not even very many collectors who'll ask which country its from. No dealers are not "good at laundering" artefacts, they just shove them online 'as is' and 99% of the time, nobody ever picks them up on it. That is where we are today in the heritage debate. Click on V-coins and type in a few key keywords and see what evidence there is from the way things are listed on this "ethical alternative to eBay" that anyone there is showing those dealers they are "exercising caution". If they were, those dugups would be being listed differently by now. But they are not are they? But this was a year ago.  The National Geographic's voice of conscience goes on:
Moreover, recent research shows that there can be little distance and few links between looters, traffickers, and collectors. Prospective buyers should be asking themselves one key question, says Hardy: "What are the chances that my money is going to buy bullets?"
No Sam, in the case of these antiquities, they should be asking the question, what are the chances that they are not. Does anyone think they will? Or are we now going to see another spate of articles from the dealers,their lobbyists and supporters doubting* and denying everything? Which do you think?

* and yes, I think we all recognize that the claimed 36 million is in fact likely not to be from antiquity sales (that's a lot of Palmyra statues), but even the very fact that the question has been raised would have truly responsible collectors taking precautionary active steps to improve their own personal due diligence t set them apart from the could-not-care-less cowboys that get collecting its bad name. 

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