metal-detecting in East Asia: ‘paint it black’

This is a postprint of a forthcoming chapter on metal-detecting (and online trafficking) of cultural objects in China, Tibet, Hong Kong and Macau; Taiwan; Japan; North Korea; South Korea; and Mongolia. ‘Paint it black’: ‘simple’ and increasingly ‘professional’ looting of antiquities with metal-detectors in East Asia.


Metal-detecting or treasure-hunting can be variously a hobby, a business and a crime, which is engaged in by citizens, residents and visitors (who are, primarily, tourists). This chapter studies metal-detecting in, and the trafficking of metal-detected cultural goods from, East Asia. Using open-source evidence, such as online forums and social networks, this chapter explores the conduct of activity in China, including Tibet, Hong Kong and Macau; Taiwan; Japan; the Korean peninsula, encompassing North Korea and South Korea; and Mongolia. Where possible, it also uses empirical indicators to gauge the scale of activity.

Activities include looting-to-order, “boutique” trafficking, crisis antiquities trafficking and organised cultural property crime. This chapter documents mail trafficking and online trafficking. It also identifies mechanisms for training and collaboration or co-offending through local and international partnerships, such as couchsurfing and profit-sharing. It observes how illicit detectorists identify cultural objects, in order to value and market the proceeds of their crime, and how they evade prosecution and dispose of their illicit assets. While piecemeal, the evidence indicates that such studies are viable means of identifying, investigating and analysing cultural property crime. It also suggests that source-end regulation is necessary, but insufficient; market-end regulation is essential.


Hardy, S A. 2018: “‘Paint it black’: ‘Simple’ and increasingly ‘professional’ looting of antiquities with metal detectors in East Asia”. In Mitsilegas, V, Hufnagel, S, Shi, Y, Liu, M and Moiseienko, A (Eds.). Transnational crime: European and Chinese perspectives. London: Routledge.


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