Thursday 13 August 2015

Black Hats Infiltrate History Group

Snidely Whiplash
Over the past few days, there has been another discussion in the linkedin "Ancient History Group" (private group): "The trade in stolen Syrian artefacts: a lengthy exposé by Buzzfeed. Read it and weep - and then challenge those who maintain they have a 'right' to buy or deal in unprovenanced antiquities." with of course comments by the Black Hatters' lobbyist Peter Tompa etc.

Note how the topic has been deflected there (as per usual), from the issue of the trade in antiquities and how it takes place, to modern politics and attempts to assign ‘blame’ (the 'Two Wrongs' argument).

The antiquities trade has always lacked any form of transparency. It is therefore futile to use the argument that ‘there is no evidence it is coming here’ or question its scale because by their nature trade in illicit commodities has always been conducted clandestinely and in a way that deletes the evidence trail. Loose artefacts looted before 2011 also cannot be precisely located, and thus Mr Tompa (the trade associations’ paid lobbyist) cannot show us any Syrian-regime looted stuff ‘came here’ either – because of the way his exploitive industry hides the origins of the material. It is the clandestine manner in which material changes hands in that industry which is the issue.

Take a look at all the material, typologically of obvious Middle Eastern origin, offered by dealers (including those represented by Mr Tompa) on eBay or VCoins and in their internet portals and galleries right across Europe and North America and dealers in the Gulf States, the vast majority with no past history referenced and therefore potentially freshly surfaced. No doubt technically it is true that ‘there is no evidence’ where the fresh material came from, but it was not dug up in Surrey in the UK, Greenland or Wisconsin. It is obviously up to the dealers offering such material to show that it does not come from the rash of post-2011 holes we see on the satellite photos appearing in ancient sites right across a large area of the Middle East – no matter ‘who’ dug them and in which month of the current conflict. It matters not so much now into whose pockets the money went, what matters is preventing the criminal commercial exploitation of the archaeological heritage in a conflict zone. Let us see concerned responsible dealers in our own countries actively (not declaratively) disassociating themselves from this activity by removing from sale the items that they cannot prove and document were obtained with due attention to and in accordance with local law and international cultural agreements such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the ‘Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property’. How difficult can that be in a responsible industry where participants claim to be acquiring ‘all’ stock with close attention to licit origins (due diligence)?

Let us not confuse, either, the ostentatious destruction by militants of above-ground monuments and loose material in storage with the wanton and clandestine destruction of the underground stratigraphy of otherwise featureless sites in order to offload some of the more saleable artefacts to foreign dealers who will not ask any questions about where they come from. This is another argument used by the antiquities trade to deflect attention from the real issue we should be discussing, which is their business methods. Buying looted and smuggled artefacts is no way to ‘save history’, which is largely just an excuse the greedy employ to justify buying what they want no-questions-asked.

Of course the argument is then taken round the usual circles by the involvement of a paid lobbyist for the antiquities trade, who ends up saying that calls for more transparency on the antiquities market are an attack on "individual rights" (note the content of the post which heads the topic). Pathetic. 

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