sex and treasure: women’s participation in looting and trafficking of Mediterranean antiquities

Following the post of work-in-progress on antiquities and narcotics in Cyprus, Greece and Turkey, this is another section that has been cut from the same study (minus one paragraph, while I process some data). Hopefully, this one will be incorporated into a study on the demographics of cultural property criminals.

A female journalist for a women’s magazine in Greece queried, ‘are there women, too, who have this hobby? [Υπάρχουν ακόμα και γυναίκες που έχουν αυτό το χόμπι;]’ (Christakopoulou, 2018). Her only and ‘tragic example [Τραγικό παράδειγμα]’ was ‘the first and last attempt [η πρώτη και τελευταία δοκιμαστική]’ to involve the wife of the leader of a team of looters, which prompted a stereotypical anecdote from the husband, which featured brave male adventurousness and dangerous female weakness:

‘The only thing that she did was to complain [το μόνο που έκανε ήταν να γκρινιάζει]’; a violently ‘opposed team [αντίπαλη ομάδα]’ of looters identified their location from ‘her careless behaviour and uninterrupted complaints [της απρόσεκτης συμπεριφοράς της και της αδιάκοπης γκρίνιας της]’ and attacked them, so permission for the participation of ‘women [in] the hunt [was] withdrawn [γυναίκες καταργήθηκαν από το κυνήγι]’ (Christakopoulou, 2018).

‘Adventure’ and ‘comradeship’ are features of treasure-hunting by males in Turkey, too (von Bieberstein, 2017: 174).

One detector-dealer in Greece felt the need to report that a ‘detectorist woman [Ανιχνευτής Γυναίκα]’ had found a gold coin (withheld source, 22nd March 2016), even though she was a hiker in Israel who had found the object by accident (as it explained in the report).

Nonetheless, treasure-hunting and antiquities trafficking are not exclusively male preserves. For example….

In Cyprus, there are instances of women who appear to be involved in the illicit handling of antiquities as well as narcotics (cf. Hardy, 2019c).

In Greece, there are instances of women who are involved in treasure-hunting, whether they are someone who sought buried treasure from the Nazi occupation (e.g. ProNews, 2019), a getaway driver for looters (e.g. e-daily eidiseis, 2016), a metal-detecting tourist or transnational looter (like a Colombian woman with an Italian man who lived in Ireland, who were convicted of illegal metal-detecting at an archaeological site, cf. Creta Live, 2019), a member of a ‘family of looters [οικογένειας αρχαιοκάπηλων]’ (Kathimerini, 2011), or a ‘female Indiana Jones [θηλυκός Ιντιάνα Τζόουνς]’ who had three male assistants (The Best, 2012).

Treasure-hunting is a focus of activity for at least one ‘elderly woman [ηλικιωμένη γυναίκα]’ who has been searching for the ‘treasure that was left behind by her guerrilla partner [θησαυρό που άφησε πίσω του ο αντάρτης σύζυγός της]’ without success since 2011 (Tachydromos, 2019). However, that is a tragic occupation more than a reckless hobby or a criminal act.

Likewise, in Turkey, there are instances of women who participate in illegal excavation, whether they are one woman who looted alongside six men (Ustabaşı, 2019), two women who looted alongside four men (İhlas Haber Ajansı, 2017), or one woman who was the ‘ringleader of the gang [çetenin elebaşı]’ and had four male assistants (Öztekin, 2019). Yet, the participation of women is still news in and of itself.

On one occasion, when a team of three middle-aged, working-class women and one middle-aged, middle-class man were caught in the act, after they had travelled hundreds of kilometres to their targeted site, their detention was headlined, ‘this time, women treasure-hunters were caught! [Bu sefer de kadın defineciler yakalandı!]’ (Doğan Haber Ajansı, 2017a).

Apparently, that was the ‘first time [that] 3 women treasure-hunters [had been] caught in the act [İlk kez 3 kadın defineci suç üstü yakalandı]’ (İyi Günler, 2017).

And there is evidence of women’s participation in trafficking elsewhere in the Middle East too (al-Azm and Paul with Graham, 2019: 35).

Still, the precise gender disparity is unclear as, outside pointedly male networks, women may participate without remark and so often without (specifically identifiable) record.

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