Saturday, July 20, 2013

If You Believe That Antiquities Looting is Driven by Rich Americans or Europeans, Think Again

Amongst many of my comrades who like me are trying to find ways to more effectively address the problem of looting of antiquities from archaeological sites, it is an article of faith that if we can reduce the demand for antiquities by collectors and museums in the US and Europe then looting will be reduced concomitantly. Hence the self-congratulations when museums in the US finally adjusted their acquisitions policies, for instance. 
But as I have argued, this is a naive view based on the mistaken assumption that the global market is dominated by Western collectors. The reality is that there are plenty of collectors from other parts of the globe whose demand is more than adequate to fuel looting.
But don't take my word for that. Here's what a Greek detective has to say:
Mr Tsoukalis believes the most popular buyers are Russians, Chinese and Latin Americans.
"In the last few years with the crisis, people who have reached their limits have become more easily tempted," he says.

"They are more likely to either sell antiquities in their possession or search for them in abandoned excavation sites, in order to sell what they find to dealers who take them abroad.
"We've tracked down ancient Greek antiquities as far away as Colombia - in the hands of drug dealers".
Does this mean that we should ignore what the collectors in the US and Europe are doing? Absolutely not. But it does mean that prohibitionism or just-say-noism is not going to do much of anything to stop looting, and that we need to think harder about other strategies that might do more. 
Spoiler alert: that doesn't include talking the Russians, Chinese and Latin Americans into just saying no -- but it might involve figuring out ways -- maybe through tourism revenues, maybe through a US tax on sales of antiquities to American collectors -- to fund better site protection and more people like Mr Tsoukalis. 

1 comment:

Wayne G. Sayles said...

I think I've heard this argument before, but it's most certainly welcome in this venue. I can affirm with some authority that dealers and collectors of antiquities have been trying for YEARS to work with the archaeological community to achieve the common goal of preserving the past. That effort has been hindered by ideology, but it is not dead. I hope your words here are well heard and open a door to the restoration of cooperation between the two points of view.