Using open-source data to identify participation in the illicit antiquities trade

My thesis documents some of the problems with research on (or simply amid) the Cyprus Conflict – including boycotting, blacklisting and sheer trouble-making. And my book chapter on the paramilitary takeover of antiquities trafficking shows how the civil war, the destruction of cultural and community property, and the trade in illicit antiquities developed together. My latest journal article, on the Cypriot civil war, uses the open-source data from catalogues of antiquities in collections and museums to work out the structure of the trade.

Make research easy to find

As I’ve shown with altmetrics, researchers need to make their work easy to find as well as easy to understand and possible to access. I was disappointed to learn that my publications require the reading level of a university graduate, but hopefully that’s mainly because some common words (such as “Cypriot”, “antiquities” and “paramilitaries”) have three or more syllables (so it looks more difficult to a computer than it is for a person), and partly because my academic writing has to be horrible to minimise the risk of getting in trouble with vested interests and extremists. At least most of my work is free to access. And this post should make my most recent article easy to find.

Defences against defamation (1)

While I don’t think that it should be necessary, other people have been wary of documenting and discussing these matters, so I feel that I should explain my legal defence for doing it. (I have no protection against “professional” punishment.) There are several defences against defamation, including truth, honest opinion, publication on a matter of public interest, and peer-reviewed statement.

It cannot be defamation if: the statement is ‘substantially true’; the opinion could genuinely be held based on the facts of the matter, claims that have been made in the public interest or statements that have been made in peer-reviewed publications; the statement has been made in the public interest; and/or the statement has been made in a peer-reviewed journal.

(Showing the peculiarities of the law, neither my doctoral thesis on cultural heritage work nor my peer-reviewed book chapter on illicit antiquities trafficking would be protected as a peer-reviewed publication, because neither was published in the format of a journal article. Still, the contents of each would be protected as true statements and honest opinions that have been expressed in the public interest.)

Illicit antiquities trading in the Cypriot civil war (2)

The official line

At the end of 1963, each community’s para-state was trying to provoke the other, but Greek Cypriot authorities succeeded in provoking intercommunal violence, which became “intercommunal conflict” (civil war). Turkish Cypriot authorities withdrew from shared government, masses of the Turkish Cypriot community retreated into enclaves (ghettoes), and antiquities looting erupted.

The professional/state narrative is that, during the 1963-1974 civil war, the enclaved Turkish Cypriot community looted, trafficked and sold antiquities, and that the Greek Cypriot community bought, rescued and preserved antiquities. How these goods passed through two lines of paramilitaries – first Turkish Cypriot, then Greek Cypriot – is rarely discussed and never adequately explained.

State crime

The Director of Antiquities, Vassos Karageorghis, designed a ‘silent accord’. And the Greek Cypriot administration of the bicommunal Republic of Cyprus implemented it. It was a secret policy, which violated state law, under which the Department of Antiquities accepted and legalised private Greek Cypriot collections of Turkish Cypriot-looted antiquities.

Open-source data

Cross-referencing find-spots of “rescued” antiquities with demographic and historical records, it is possible to test the state’s narrative of events. Naturally, evidence is piecemeal, because looters, dealers and collectors didn’t often keep records of the sources of their illicit antiquities. However, there is still enough information to establish an evidence-based history of the antiquities trade in the Cyprus Conflict, and my data shows it.

Before the conflict, looted antiquities came from Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot sources in proportion to the sizes of their communities. During the conflict, ghettoised and impoverished Turkish Cypriots became disproportionately common sources for illicit antiquities collectors.

Further evidence of further state crime

However, contrary to the official line, despite government control, Greek Cypriots continued to be common sources for illicit antiquities collectors. Indeed, state-sanctioned collectors appear to have bought looted antiquities from Greek Cypriots and archaeologists published those collections.

Consequently, this analysis undermines the archaeological policy of looted antiquities’ “rescue” and looted antiquities collections’ legalisation. Evidently, Greek Cypriots within government control as well as Turkish Cypriots outside government control pillaged the island’s cultural heritage.

Regardless of whether antiquities policy was exploited or policy-makers turned a blind eye, it has been disastrous for archaeology and the incorrect interpretation of its consequences has underpinned nationalist history-writing.

Based on the data from these catalogues of private collections of looted antiquities, Greek Cypriot archaeologists have blamed Turkish Cypriots for crimes committed by both Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots, which were funded by Greek Cypriots, who were supported by the Greek Cypriot administration.

My sources are published sources, so my claims can be checked, and this information was publicly available when the state narrative was written.


1: These are defences under the Defamation Act (2013, in force since 1st January 2014, as of 13th August 2014) in the U.K., where I published this comment – truth (Section 2, Subsection 1), honest opinion (Section 3, Subsection 4; Section 3, Subsection 7), publication on matter of public interest (Section 4, Subsection 1), and peer-reviewed statement in scientific or academic journal etc. (Section 6, Subsection 1).

2: Hardy, S A. 2014: “Using open-source data to identify participation in the illicit antiquities trade: A case study on the Cypriot civil war”. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, Online First. Available at:

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