Thursday, June 19, 2014

Looted coins

SITE RAIDERS: ‘Smoking Gun’ Ancient Coins Are Being Looted from Excavations — and Too Few Coin Scholars Are Firing Back, Baylor Expert Says.
Newswise — Millions of ancient looted coins from archaeological excavations enter the black market yearly, and a Baylor University researcher who has seen plundered sites likens the thefts to stealing “smoking guns” from crime scenes. But those who collect and study coins have been far too reluctant to condemn the unregulated trade, he says.

“Archaeologists are detectives. When something has been taken away from a historical site, the object is divorced from its relationship with other objects, and its utility for the writing of history — much like solving a criminal case — is diminished,” said Nathan Elkins, Ph.D., assistant art professor in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.

Elkins is the staff numismatist at the excavations of an ancient synagogue from the Roman/Byzantine period in Huqoq, Israel. He has written an article, “Investigating the Crime Scene: Looting and Ancient Coins,” that appears in the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Possibly related: New Evidence Ties Illegal Antiquities Trade to Terrorism, Violent Crime. In Cambodia and beyond, archaeologists and criminologists are fighting the underground trade in cultural treasures (Heather Pringle, National Geographic). The "and beyond" includes Israel, Jordan, Iraq, and Afghanistan, but the proposed connections with terrorism in the latter two sound speculative to me, although not implausible.

More on the current issue of BAR here, final paragraph.