Antiquities trade responds to exposure of false debunking with more false debunking

When I debunked antiquities trade representative Ursula Kampmann’s supposed debunking of still-unverified intelligence on Islamic State antiquities trafficking, Cultural Property Observer (CPO) (dealer [collector] and lobbyist) Peter Tompa tried to debunk me in turn. Hyperallergic have published a piece in which I debunk that debunking too.

I review the wider campaign against trade regulation and explain that, whereas Tompa claimed that I had claimed that German media had verified the Islamic State’s alleged $36m income from antiquities trafficking, I had in fact explicitly stated that such verification was ‘still absolutely necessary’.

[Correction (12th December 2014): Tompa has kindly pointed out that he is an antiquities collector, not an antiquities dealer. Update (20th December 2014): aside from currently private details, I have published an otherwise complete explanation of the conclusion – correction and clarification but no retraction.]

I have now expressed severe doubts about the Guardian’s report repeatedly over the course of six months. I continue to have such doubts and plead for the publication of the evidence. However, in reference to both that and other claims and counter-claims, it is worth noting that much information has not been falsified either. Many reports have contradicted one another, but have been (unavoidably but) equally weakly evidenced (due to investigators’ inability to research freely and conclusively, and their consequent reliance on anonymous personal sources or otherwise unpublishable evidence), so it has been impossible to say that either falsifies the other.

For example, while (German newspaper) die Zeit excluded antiquities trafficking and sale from its investigation into Islamic State financing because, as reporter Fritz Zimmermann warned, ‘it [could] not be proven [Es lässt sich nicht belegen]’ (with their evidence), (German public broadcasting consortium) ARD and (Franco-German TV network) ARTE reporter Esther Saoub cited eyewitnesses who had testified to Islamic State antiquities looting and Islamic State antiquities sale. Important though the details of this case are, it might be more effective to focus on cracking the illicit market that funds the looting worldwide.

Zimmermann, F. 2014: “Der ‘Islamischer Staat’ und die Antiken”. Die Zeit, 4 dezember, 62.

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5 Responses to “Antiquities trade responds to exposure of false debunking with more false debunking”

  1. What a pathetic waffeling response. One might expect more from a professional researcher. Are your cited claims true or are they not? If not, why did you cite them?

  2. What, ever, is the “truth” about the antiquities trade, Mr Sayles? Your truth, that of the Iraqi authorities actually on the ground? That of Ms Kampmann or Mr Tompa using selected secondary sources in distant lands to “debunk” what people on the ground (not “archaeologists”, not Sam Hardy) have said? What ‘facts’ can you or I establish on this no-questions-asked and secretive market in general, and the path of Syrian conflict antiquities onto the market in particular?

    Your acerbic comments are uncalled for. It is not without reason that Sam has become widely regarded as a careful analyst and insightful reporter on the matters under discussion here. You can see it in what he writes – if you care to actually look. That is more than anyone can say about any of the representatives of the antiquities trade at the moment who are concerned mainly to deny everything, misrepresnt the views of their opponents or throw mud and insults, rather than actually make a proper contribution to the heritage debate.

    As of course the cynical manipulators among the trade lobby will know full well, the “36 million” is a straw man argument constructed by the trade lobby. “How much” this or that militia leader earns is beside the main issue, which is that sites and monuments are being trashed and conflict antiquities are being smuggled out of the region while you and your kind sit back arguing against taking immediate and decisive action to do what we can to deal with this crisis.

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