The Illicit Antiquities Trade

WikiLeaks released the Iraq War Logs in October 2010. The author searched “artifact” and immediately turned up several hits. After compiling a “cultural digest” of logs related to heritage, the author undertook a study of how artifacts were transferred from the ground in Iraq to buyers around the world. Broadening to include major case studies in Afghanistan and Bulgaria as well as minor case studies in Italy, Peru, and Turkey, the result was an article in the International Journal of Cultural Property.

The research examines the trade through a network paradigm. Rather than focus on a single artifact or individual, the author argues that the trade is composed of many participants who are constantly joining or leaving. These are not career criminals, but regular individuals, but regular people seeking to supplement their incomes. There are no “bosses” or hierarchy like traditional organized crime, just person to person fluid interactions. Due to this complexity, focusing on a single person is counter productive; it is more accurate and effective to focus on the network itself that exhibits an underlying structure. Understanding the network allows for anticipation, rather than prediction, of antiquities trafficking. Anticipation can remove “convergence settings” where network interactions occur. Criminologists have found that crime prevented is largely crime diminished, so the safest and most effective way of eliminating the trade is disrupting convergence settings between looters and middlemen, middlemen and grey market dealer, and grey market dealers and buyers.

A summary of findings can be found in a post on University of Southampton’s website. The article can be found here.