Tuesday, 14 August 2018

The Middle East’s Other Facebook Revolution: Looting to Order

Katie Paul and Amr Al-Azam claim to have uncovered a previously unknown digital antiquities trafficking network spanning thousands of people  ('The Middle East’s Other Facebook Revolution: Antiquities Trafficking in the Digital Age', World Politics Review Aug 13th 2018). One interesting sideline on the story they tell is the light it sheds on the controversial story of 'looting to order' about which there has been some debate in recent years among those who study the commerce in portable antiquities. Some scholars (like Sam Hardy) have said all along that it exists, while others (notably Donna Yates) have been skeptical. Paul and Al-Azam say they have proof that it does indeed operate:
 Our research also shines a light on loot-to-order transactions, in which artifacts are stolen in response to specific requests, or “orders,” for material. Until now, there has been little evidence confirming that this actually happens. On Facebook, though, it unfolds in plain sight. On one of the trafficking pages we reviewed, its administrators were making loot-to-order requests less than two months after the page was created. These requests included contact information for the requesting buyers, who were themselves often middlemen. The requests covered particular types of cultural property from particular periods. For example, the administrators at one point indicated they were seeking Islamic-era manuscripts and books that could be made available in Istanbul, Turkey, by a specific date. Other times, they posted requests for Jewish manuscripts, books and artifacts that could be made available in Amman, Jordan. (Amman is a common transit point for traffickers moving material into Israel, which has a large market for Jewish artifacts.)  Responses to these requests varied. Some members would post a comment showing an image of the type of object being sought, illustrating an ability to fulfill the order. Others would simply state that they had an example of the type of desired object, and request to communicate privately with the administrator. Others would post their contact information, such as an email address or phone number, to connect more securely. These loot-to-order requests signify a major evolution in antiquities trafficking. Looters are now targeting material with a previously unseen level of precision—a practice that Facebook makes remarkably easy.
In other cases, photographs and video footage of antiquities and other items are posted on Facebook shown still in situ:
Carved reliefs, freshly unearthed artifacts and even chandeliers in historic mansions have all been offered up for sale with accompanying images. The sellers, in these cases, are simply waiting to identify interested buyers before looting them.  
So,... collectors are indeed the looters.

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