metal-detecting in South-East Asia: ‘you just have to wear it’

This is a postprint of a forthcoming chapter on metal-detecting (and online trafficking) of cultural objects in Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar/Burma, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam. ‘You just have to wear it’: trafficking of metal-detected antiquities from South-East Asia.


This chapter makes a preliminary attempt to test the capacity of open-source research to generate evidence of licit and illicit metal-detecting in South-East Asia. Most evidence relates to Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand; complementary evidence comes from Brunei Darussalam, Laos, Myanmar/Burma, Singapore, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.

Using online forums and social networks, it attempts to gauge the scale of activity and to collect netnographic evidence of trafficking and mechanisms of trafficking, from looting and smuggling through to illicit sale and illicit purchase. For example, it documents networked knowledge production, for the manufacture of home-made, hand-built metal-detectors and the identification of archaeological sites.

Notably, it identifies evidence of a tendency towards online social organisation in transnational, rather than national, communities; hubs of activity within the region; and the key role of international actors in local activity. It is hoped that such empirical evidence may be useful in understanding and policing illicit flows of cultural goods.


Hardy, S A. 2018: “‘You just have to wear it’: Trafficking of metal-detected antiquities from South-East Asia”. In Hufnagel, S and Moiseienko, A (Eds.). Policing transnational crime: Law enforcement of criminal flows. London: Routledge.

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