Tuesday 9 December 2014

The Routes of "Not-From-ISIL Artefacts" out of Syria, Documentation Needed to Confirm

Messers Grebkesh and Runn, everybody's favourite ancient coin dealer has several coins which circulated in ancient polities now in Syria among their new acquisitions, here are five of them, Damascus, Raqqa- jolly nice, eh? The trouble is none of them have any collecting history included in the sales spiel.

An estimate by Eric McFadden suggests that only one in five of these coins is an old find, the rest are likely to be relatively freshly-surfaced. Lucifer Grebkesh answered my question on this: "Mr Barford, I resent you even asking if these coins came from a militant group such as ISIS, I'll have you know Grebkesh and Runn are a reputable firm and we do not do business with terrorists" - when pressed, he added that there was "not a scrap of evidence that any coins on the market today came from ISIS, not a scrap". In that, he's saying the same as just about every dealer in western Europe. Yet sites in ISIL-held areas are heavily looted and the artefacts from all the digging all over the country (and Iraq too) must be going somewhere.

Source ASOR - the distribution of sites currently being
and having been being looted in neighbouring Iraq,
both in and outside ISIL-held territory is not shown.
The ones being openly dug (if we are to believe eyewitnesses, sometimes with the use of mechanical excavators and bulldozers) and sorted through, and then transported across the area held by ISIL are extremely unlikely not to be the subject of transactions contributing to the filling of ISIL coffers or pockets, and that is the case whether the looters and smugglers are working as direct agents of ISIL (or other men-with-guns militant groups) or win their freedom of action by payment of fees. So, by which route did the coins in Grebkesh and Runn's stockroom get there if they say that they did not pass through the hands of ISIL and its agents? Can they document that? By which border crossing did they leave the source country?

As I have said before, nobody is better placed to show that transactions involving freshly-surfaced ancient artefacts are "not" benefiting ISIL than the dealers and their suppliers. Instead of standing on the sidelines shouting abuse and denying everything, dealers can provide documentation that the bulk of the coins they handle have arrived on the market using the routes which bypass ISIL territory (the map on the left), rather than those that pass through ISIL taxation of transactions in their realm. We look forward to the carefully argued presentation, backed up by the evidence,  that the artefacts coming out of the conflict zone come through the hands of agents other than ISIL.

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