Tuesday 17 August 2021

Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record: From Helsinki to Rome


Following on from his really thought-provoking paper on Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record in the Balkans, Dr Sam Hardy has produced another piece that fills in the transnational picture (Hardy, S A. 2021: “Organised crime in trafficking of cultural goods in Turkey and interconnections between antiquities trafficking and narcotics trafficking, arms trafficking and political violence”. In Traviglia, A, Milano, L, Tonghini, C and Giovanelli, R (Eds.). Stolen heritage: Multidisciplinary perspectives on illicit trafficking of cultural heritage in the EU and the MENA region, 115-155. Venice: Edizioni Ca’ Foscari. [pdf])


Whether it is because their existence is doubted, because their reality is known or because the evidence is piecemeal, poly-trafficking of cultural goods with other illicit commodities, the involvement of criminal organisations in the illicit trafficking of cultural goods and the involvement of violent political organisations in the illicit trafficking of cultural goods have typically been neglected. By focusing on Turkey, this study seeks to understand how organised cultural property crime has functioned, persisted and expanded to supply markets such as Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States as well; how criminal organisations have been connected with other criminal activity and political violence in Turkey, Cyprus and Syria; and how their connections may reach as far afield as Mexico.

Using open-source research to trace names, connections and activities, it explores organised criminals with political protection; an antiquities mafia that is rooted in Turkey; an antiquities gang that is rooted in Cyprus; a gang in and around the state in Turkey; and connections between organised crime in Mexico, criminally-financed political violence in Turkey and criminally-financed political violence in Syria. Thereby, it demonstrates the existence and functioning of transnational organised cultural property crime that spans West Asia, Europe and North America; it outlines a system of trafficking of narcotics with antiquities from Turkey and money-laundering of drug profits with cultural assets in the United Kingdom; and it documents a relationship between organised crime and state activity that taints markets, undermines the rule of law and endangers societies.

We all remember how a paper of his was of such interest that as many as six European archaeologists banded together in March 2018 to discuss it (I use the term loosely). Since then, the six seem to have passed on and considered the continuation of the lines of thought in Sam's work were no longer worth commenting on. And that is a shame, as they profess to be all for a transnational approach to the issues surrounding Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record, and yet after their initial efforts (and Thomas and Pitblado's rather off-the-mark Antiquity reprimand of us all), they've all gone heads-down over their own national metal detecting communities. Perhaps this is an admission that, after all that bluster and condescension, the issues raised by what some of the rest of us are doing require a rather more different response than the one they encourage in their "networking". 


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