metal-detecting in South Asia: to get a good price, ‘you have to sell in international bidding sites’

This is a postprint of a forthcoming chapter on metal-detecting (and online trafficking) of cultural objects in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. To get a good price, ‘you have to sell in international bidding sites’: trafficking of metal-detected cultural goods from South Asia.


This chapter analyses open-source evidence, such as data from online forums and social networks, to advance understanding of the trafficking of cultural goods from South Asia, particularly Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. As the simplest identifier of potential participants in the illicit trade, it targets metal-detectorists and treasure-hunters.

It explores training in and methods of trafficking by individuals, networks and groups, including the trafficking of metal-detectors into territories by transnational detectorists, to enable extraction of cultural objects. Other insights include the exploitation of military structures for the trafficking of antiquities, by elements within military forces during international deployments. They also include the exploitation of international relations and their economic implications, as metal-detecting “tourists” from powerful countries have threatened international diplomatic incidents to (successfully) deter action by law enforcement agents in disadvantaged countries.

More commonly, local and transnational heritage crime is realised through exploitation of loopholes and grey areas in law. Usefully for law enforcement agents, some cultural property criminals discuss which laws can be circumvented and how and which laws are effective deterrents. Public knowledge of territories’ vulnerability also appears to facilitate antiquities fraud, wherein forgers use metal-detectors as false evidence that they have looted genuine antiquities, instead of manufactured fake objects. Thus, such research finds evidence that advances understanding of transnational antiquities trafficking and its policing.


Hardy, S A. 2019: “To get a good price, ‘you have to sell in international bidding sites’: Trafficking of metal-detected cultural goods from South Asia”. In Hufnagel, S and Moiseienko, A (Eds.). Criminal networks and law enforcement: Global/international perspectives on illicit enterprise, 93-119. London: Routledge.

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