Wednesday 7 August 2019

Antiquities Collecting Threatens Cultural Heritage Around The World

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David S. Anderson has written a piece for Forbes: 'Rampant Antiquities Theft Threatens Cultural Heritage Around The World' (Jul 31, 2019). Some people are not content to just learn about the past, or to see ancient remains, but feel the need instead, he says,  to personally own objects of remote antiquity.  Ancient objects removed from their archaeological context represent 'an irreplaceable loss of knowledge. When these artefacts are harvested purely for their financial value, no attention is paid to where they were found, what they might have been found with, or the ephemeral traces of how those objects were used'.  The same goes of course for artefact hunting that is done for personal entertainment, like the 'metal detectorists' of the UK. When it comes to commerce in loose artefact-hunted archaeological objects:
To acquire antiquities, however, is to inherently come into contact with criminal enterprise. Donna Yates, archaeologist and expert on antiquities theft, told me that there is no clean market for antiquities. “It’s a grey market … The (few) totally legal antiquities out there are sold alongside the loot and they are impossible for even a well-meaning buyer to differentiate between.” Instead, the antiquities market has numerous connections to problematic actors. [...] From back to front, the antiquities market represents a nefarious space tied to criminal enterprise and the destruction of cultural heritage. 
Anderson mentions information about organized international crime syndicates having been involved in art crime since the 1960s, and details of looted material from Middle Eastern sites being currently sold on Facebook and other social media sites possibly on behalf of terrorist groups.
For those who still wish to buy antiquities, Yates went on to note that “there’s a danger you will lose your money and the object of it is seized, or, worse, be charged with something.” Beyond that, buyers “risk contributing to the destruction of the past.”

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