Tuesday 24 August 2021

Book: "Antiquities Smuggling in the Real and Virtual World"

       Virtual intergalactic smugglers      

Antiquities Smuggling in the Real and Virtual World Edited By Layla Hashemi, Louise Shelley* forthcoming, 2022 (Routledge) 280 Pages 37 B/W Illustrations  GBP £120.00
Book Description
This book examines the illicit trade in antiquities, a trade which has increased massively following the destruction and looting of ancient Near Eastern sites in the Middle East. Focusing on the distribution networks for looted antiquities, especially the routes to the West, the book considers the dealers and facilitators who are key in getting the objects to market, explores the methods used including online marketplaces and social media sites, analyses demand and buyers, revealing that objects are often available at very affordable prices. It outlines the efforts of law enforcement agencies, including the military, and legal systems to contain the trade. Throughout the book highlights the difficulties of putting a stop to this illicit trade, particularly in a conflict region.

I think it is worth emphasising this affordability and what it means. In former decades goods reached customers through elite ('ancient art') dealers with exclusive brick-and-mortar 'galleries' who set the price at what they wanted. Some dinosaur survivals of this market affecting to be populated by erudite connoisseurs still exist. A lot of the sales today have more the form of peer-to-peer sales. This means however that the custom is in much more direct connection with the looters and the middlemen that deal directly with them. And they know it.  For a book whose title suggests a broader scope, the contents are a bit of a mishmash

Table of Contents
Part I: Setting the Context
Introduction Louise Shelley and Layla Hashemi
1. The Looting and Trafficking of Syrian Antiquities Since 2011 Neil Brodie
2. Hobby Lobby, the Museum of the Bible, and the Law: A Case Study of the Looting of Archaeological Artifacts from Iraq Patty Gerstenblith
3. The Hearing Hand: Scribes and Seal Cutters in the Ancient Near East Ira Spar and Antonietta Catanzariti

Part II: The Illicit Antiquities Trade 
4. Antiquities Trafficking from Syria along the Northern Route Mahmut Cengiz
5. The Value of Financial Investigations in the Battle Against Artifact Smuggling Michael Loughnane
6. Working a Case on Looted and Smuggled Ancient Coins as an Expert Witness Nathan Elkins

Part III: Antiquities Trade in the Cyberworld
7. Plenitudinous: An Analysis of Ancient Coin Sales on eBay Ute Wartenberg and Barbora Dmitričenko
8. Investigating the Online Trade of Illicit Antiquities Abi Waddell and Layla Hashemi
I am left wondering whether this "virtual world" is a different one from the real world antiquities market. A large part of the latter functions precisely because it is facilitated by online connections. It seems a bit 1990-ish treating "the cyberworld" (part three) as a separate phenomenon. Its also a shame that none of the papers addresses the trade in pre-Columbian artefacts out of Mesoamerica and South America both with the US as well as the rest of the world to offset the apparent focus here on the Middle East and coins.   

The names of the editors and authors are a bit of a giveaway as to what this is. Layla Hashemi is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Terrorism, Transnational Crime, and Corruption Center (TraCCC) at George Mason University, Washington, DC, Louise Shelley is the Hirst Chair, Professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government and Director of the TraCCC at George Mason University, Washington, DC. 

All of the book's authors took part in the TraCCC's US State Department funded project 'Countering Looting of Antiquities from Syria and Iraq' (CLASI), that aimed "to present an overview of what is currently known about the illegal trade in Syrian and Iraqi antiquities and the trade’s links to terrorist financing"  (see their Jan 2019 report here; see my comments on this project here). It's ironic that this book comes out in the aftermath of  last week's US abandonment of Afghanistan as a further stage in the development of US thinking on the so-called "War on Terror", of which the creation of the project behind this book was also a stage.

Let's see what the authors come up with, though the price is a bit offputting for me. 

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