mental health and treasure-hunting

Following the posts on trafficking of antiquities and narcotics and women’s participation in looting and trafficking, this is yet another section that has been cut from a study on looting in Turkey, Greece and Cyprus.

This is a difficult issue to discuss. I am not associating mental health with criminal activity (I have, after all, experienced mental health issues myself), nor any of the legal participants in metal-detecting or treasure-hunting with criminal activity (nor even with each other). Here, I am only interested in a potential connection between participation in treasure-hunting and experience of mental health.

Evidence of emotional management in the social organisation of treasure-hunting may be telling. According to an experienced treasure-hunter in Turkey who educates novices online, they must choose partners or team members carefully, because some ‘can very easily be taken under control by djinns [cinler tarafından çok rahat kontrol altına alınabilir]’ (withheld source, 30th June 2019).

Supposedly due to possession by these spirits, ‘incidents like cutting the throat of a friend, murder are events that we see very often in the history of treasure-hunting [arkadaşını kesme boğazlama öldürme gibi hadiseler definecilik tarihinde çok sık gördüğümüz olaylardır]’ (e.g. withheld source, 30th June 2019).

Although the symptoms of those treasure-hunters are interpreted within a fundamentally religious context, and although many such incidents are inevitably driven by greed and similarly inexcusable motives, even the terminology indicates that some such incidents are underpinned by untreated medical conditions.

Those spirits can induce ‘anxiety…. great weakness, fatigue and lack of comfort…. stress, depression, melancholia…. despair and pessimism [and] panic attack[s] [kaygıya…. halsizlik, yorgunluk, takatsizlik…. strese, depresyona, melankoliye…. ümitsizliğe ve karamsarlığa, panik atağa]’ (withheld source, 30th June 2019).

There is burgeoning documentation of the potential health benefits of community archaeology, collective metal-detecting and solitary metal-detecting for serving personnel, veterans (SPV) and civilians who have mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression (e.g. Dobat et al, 2019; Evans, 2018; Everill, Bennett and Burnell, 2019; Rogers and Haer, 2019; Winterton, 2014).

While it is anecdotal, this testimony appears to reaffirm that, for some people, whether they are successful or not (and whether they are explicitly aware of a medical condition or not), this activity may function as self-management of mental disorders. This may also explain their particular resistance to moderating that activity.

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