Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Syrian Looting Today: A View from the Ground

Here is something that you'll not see the antiquities trade lobbyists producing, though I bet they'll happily cherry-pick some of its conclusions (Neil Brodie & Isber Sabrine (2017) The Illegal Excavation and Trade of Syrian Cultural Objects: A View from the Ground, Journal of Field Archaeology, 43:1, 74-84, DOI: 10.1080/00934690.2017.1410919 [open access till the end of May]):
 The illegal excavation and trade of cultural objects from Syrian archaeological sites worsened markedly after the outbreak of civil disturbance and conflict in 2011. Since then, the damage to archaeological heritage has been well documented, and the issue of terrorist funding explored, but hardly any research has been conducted into the organization and operation of theft and trafficking of cultural objects inside Syria. As a first step in that direction, this paper presents texts of interviews with seven people resident in Syria who have first-hand knowledge of the trade, and uses information they provided to suggest a model of socioeconomic organization of the Syrian war economy regarding the trafficking of cultural objects. It highlights the importance of coins and other small objects for trade, and concludes by considering what lessons might be drawn from this model to improve presently established public policy.
A really important, careful and reflective piece of work based on the view from the ground. Coins figure prominently, it seems looters are primarily looking for coins, which sell for decent money and are easy to smuggle (as Christopher Jones notes: 'portability and plausible deniability about the source of an artifact seem to be important'). So shall we see a statement from the leading numismatic associations about this text apart from their weedy 'metal detectors (sic) in Syria should be controlled'? 

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