Sunday, March 15, 2009

LOOTING OF ANTIQUITIES remains a ubiquitous problem:
Networks of plunder
Archaeologists tracing the labyrinth of antiquities trafficking hope to shut it down, or at least slow it up

By Bruce Bower (Science News)
March 28th, 2009; Vol.175 #7 (p. 20)

Every day for months, Morag Kersel walked through the streets of Jerusalem to interview researchers, antiquities dealers, museum officials and others about the trafficking of ancient goods: pottery, sawed-off pieces of statues, decorated blocks sliced off the tops of ancient door frames, and biblical coins, to name a few.

One day in 2003, Kersel, then a graduate student in archaeology, came face-to-face with a thriving Middle Eastern trade in ancient, looted coins that had been right under her nose for some time. One of her contacts mentioned that he often purchased such coins from a Palestinian man who shined the shoes of Jerusalem’s pedestrians. Kersel realized that she had been passing by that shoe-shine stand day after day.

Kersel, now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, refers to this street-corner salesman by an assumed name, Mohammed, in order to protect his identity. Mohammed introduced her to a side of the antiquities trade that archaeologists, not to mention law-enforcement officials, rarely see: the chain of secretive relationships that turns looted pieces of the past into scrupulously documented keepsakes for affluent buyers.

The focus of the article is the biblical region and period, but it covers lots of ground elsewhere as well. The problem remains grim.