to get a good price, ‘you have to sell in international bidding sites’: trafficking of metal-detected cultural goods from South Asia

I’m happy to say that I’ve published a chapter on trafficking of metal-detected cultural goods from South Asia in a book on criminal networks and law enforcement: global perspectives on illegal enterprise by Saskia Hufnagel and Anton Moiseienko. There is a postprint copy.

criminal networks and law enforcement: global perspectives on illegal enterprise

Following an introduction by Hufnagel and Moiseienko, there is a section on formation of criminal networks, with reviews of co-offending in Norway by Synøve N. Andersen and evidence of co-offending partnerships by Chiara Broccatelli, Martin Everett and Johan Koskinen; a section on management of criminal networks, with analyses of leaders’ strategies for risk management by Siobhan Lawler and David Bright and recruitment, motives and involvement mechanisms by E.R (Rutger) Leukfeldt and E.R. (Edward) Kleemans; a section on illicit trafficking networks, with studies of trafficking of cultural goods from South Asia by me and illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific by Jade Lindley and Erika Techera; a section on criminal networks and politics, which I’m particularly looking forward to reading, with explorations of the quality and strength of ties in the “Mafia Capitale” network by Anna Sergi, power and trust networks in the organisation of crime in Ukraine by Anna Markovska and Petrus C. van Duyne and the social organisation of treason by Robert R. Faulkner and Eric R. Cheney; and a section on advancing the field, with social network analysis of organised crime research by Panos Kostakos and a conclusion on future developments in the field by Hufnagel and Moiseienko.

to get a good price, ‘you have to sell in international bidding sites’: trafficking of metal-detected cultural goods from South Asia


South Asia is a prestigious target for institutions and individuals who collect cultural property, who thus not only underwrite lucrative criminal markets, but also finance sophisticated criminal enterprises. Antiquities trafficking boss Subhash Kapoor ran a USD 100,000,000 business empire, which spanned South Asia and South-East Asia and reached from India to the United States (Mashberg and Bearak, 2015, AR1).
As the simplest identifier of potential producers in the illicit trade, this chapter targets non-archaeologists who use metal detectors to search for cultural objects (whether they identify, or are identified as, metal-detectorists or treasure-hunters). It can be difficult to categorise the legality of their activity, as some follow legal and ethical codes; some respect the law but disregard any ethical code that has been written by cultural heritage professionals; some respect the law but disregard any ethical code at all, even one that has been written by more socially responsible detectorists; some violate the law but respect some kind of ethical code, for example, by fraudulently recording their illegal finds in public registers of legal finds, wherein experts can study the objects, although it might be suspected that the primary motivation for such recording would be to launder illegal finds with paperwork that is offered for legal finds; and some disregard every legal and ethical code. Obviously, citation of metal-detectorists does not imply any wrongdoing on their part. But, assuming illicit detectorists have the same interests and serve the same markets as licit detectorists, the activity of licit detectorists may help to understand the activities of illicit detectorists.
This chapter analyses open-source evidence to advance understanding of the trafficking of cultural goods in South Asia. While this region also encompasses Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives and Nepal, this chapter concentrates on Afghanistan; India, including India-administered Jammu and Kashmir; Pakistan, including Pakistan-administered Azad-Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan; and Sri Lanka. It excludes China-administered Aksai-Chin and the Trans-Karakoram Tract in Kashmir.


Despite the sparsity of sources, the information that is available is instructive for academic and non-academic researchers, cultural heritage professionals and law enforcement agents. Analysis of online forums and social networks has identified evidence of: illicit trafficking of cultural objects, by a range of actors from local entrepreneurs to armed forces on deployment overseas; the nature of the market across South Asia, as experienced participants train novice participants; the social organisation of the market, as participants manage their own activity online; and strategies to evade regulation and prevent policing. Thus, such open-source research is a viable tool for advancing understanding and policing of transnational antiquities trafficking.
Adapting these methods and variations (e.g. Hardy, 2016b, 2017), this tool can be used by academic and non-academic researchers and analysts to expand and refine quantitative and qualitative data. Certainly, local-language-proficient studies will be able to significantly advance understanding of social organisation and online management of illicit activity. They may be able to identify sites that are being looted or that are being targeted for looting, as well as criminals’ own testimony to the factors that disrupt or deter looting/theft, trafficking/smuggling and illicit sales. As demonstrated, police services may be able to identify active criminals and secure self-published incriminating evidence or leads to evidence, such as the listing of loot by soldiers from the United States in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, border forces and customs agencies may be able to target resources at bottlenecks in smuggling routes or techniques for bypassing inspections.
Altogether, this evidence may emphasise the difficulties of crime prevention in source countries and pressure the international community to intensify crime prevention in market countries. Market countries, anyway, are the places that create the demand that drives the supply. They draw in most of the profit in the illicit trade and channel out a fraction, which undermines social cohesion and the rule of law and finances organised crime and political violence in source countries. As highlighted by the financing of terrorism in Europe with profits from illicit trafficking in South Asia, which are ultimately largely derived from markets in Europe (and North America), it is a matter of stability and security for the market countries to support stability and security in the source countries.


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 perspectives on illegal enterprise, 93-119. London: Routledge. [pdf]

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