artefact-hunting in drug plantations and by cannabis-cultivators in Ukraine (around 2014)

In the course of researching artefact-hunting in Eastern Europe, I found a discussion of the activity among drug-producers in Ukraine, as both a problem for some and a practice of others. This material, based on an 88-message conversation between early 2014 and early 2015, has been cut from the current draft of the text.

As in my previous post (and other texts), I have anonymised individuals and communities – UA for Ukraine, NSP for narcotic substance-producer and OC for online community. The coding was done for this post, so the coded identities do not relate to any others elsewhere and they will probably not relate to any narcotic substance-producers in the related text.

competition for remote land

In UAOC01, an online forum for cannabis-cultivators in Ukraine (and elsewhere), UANSP01, complained about the latest misfortune to befall the community – treasure-hunters, who had been trampling or unearthing (or consuming) crops; UANSP02 and UANSP07 testified that friends’ plantations had been trampled by artefact-hunters; UANSP15 testified to seeing artefact-hunters often; UANSP06 complained that there were more and more artefact-hunters every day, who were finding less and less, so they were searching further and further afield and had become impossible to deter.

transnational looting

UANSP04 suggested that they included artefact-hunters from Russia who had started looting abroad since the tightening of legislation at home. (Complementarily, UANSP16 and UANSP13 ridiculed the idea that the law would stop artefact-hunting any more than it had stopped the production of narcotic substances; it had simply driven adaptation, such as engagement in cross-border looting.)

Meanwhile, implicitly Donbass-based UANSP21 observed that he had not seen any artefact-hunters since the start of the war, as they had been replaced by soldiers, barriers and mines.

deterrence and sabotage

With regard to deterrence mechanisms, UANSP01 was considering – and UANSP06, UANSP12 and UANSP18 recommended – seeding the ground with fragments of non-ferrous scrap metal such as aluminium that would confuse the readings of metal-detectors. However, UANSP04 and UANSP07 countered that garbage constituted a trace of human activity and artefact-hunters (like themselves) assumed that, where there was worthless rubbish, there would be valuable finds as well, so distribution of scrap metal would actually be an incitement to hunt for artefacts. Indeed, UANSP20 noted that, if they were stopped by law enforcement agents, artefact-hunters (like himself) would give the excuse that they were metal-detecting for scrap metal.

UANSP13 and UANSP20 specifically informed the non-artefact-hunting members of their community that their metal-detectors discriminated between different types of metal, so they could screen out scrap. Obviously, artefact-hunting cannabis-cultivators may have been trying to discourage other members of their cannabis-cultivating community from deploying a deterrence mechanism that would be manageable for yet nonetheless disruptive to artefact-hunters.

Others suggested more extreme measures. UANSP09 suggested animal traps, while UANSP17 stated that he had installed home-made rows of small spikes around his plantation – enough to injure without maiming. However, UANSP11 counselled against any violent defence, due to the risk of injuring innocent bystanders and provoking violent retribution.

Instead, UANSP03, said that there was no solution except discreet indoor growing; and UANSP04, UANSP07, UANSP08 and UANSP10 recommended discreet outdoor growing, such as planting among obscuring crops or in remote locations; UANSP04 also suggested growing taller plants or other vegetation that would discourage (consequently unproductive) trampling and unearthing by artefact-hunters and/or disingenuously warning artefact-hunters that the area had been targeted a lot already and the police raided the area regularly, while UANSP08 and UANSP14 recommended checking maps and planting crops away from historic sites (or locations with natural resources, which were likely to attract artefact-hunters in search of archaeological deposits).

However, again, UANSP04 and UANSP07 were artefact-hunters; and UANSP04 was not only an artefact-hunter, but also a cannabis-supplier to artefact-hunters (and that arrangement was probably also true for the other artefact-hunting cannabis-cultivators), so he (and they) may have been advocating a response by the cannabis-cultivating community that would minimally harm the interests of the artefact-hunting community.

diverse ideologies and base motives

UANSP05 argued that they were educated, but ideologically opposed to illegal narcotics. However, UANSP04 observed that the anti-drugs attitude was a broader social attitude.

UANSP05 argued that they destroyed crops deliberately to protect their communities from addiction – and/or, less idealistically, to discourage the planting of crops on archaeologically-productive land. As such, he argued that cannabis-growers could reason with artefact-hunters, on the basis that they were different from destructively-addictive narcotics-suppliers. Yet artefact-hunters might require more than kind words from cannabis-cultivators.

Though UANSP04 rightly cautioned that participation in artefact-hunting might (eventually) require disposable income, flexible hours and high mobility, others elsewhere have noted that artefact-hunters can begin as digging assistants to metal-detectorists, then rent devices, then buy devices, as they develop their skill and increase the revenue stream. UANSP03 and UANSP05 asserted that artefact-hunters tended to be poor. UANSP03 observed that business-minded ones would extort money in return for not destroying crops or denouncing growers to the authorities.

the diverse livelihoods of criminal entrepreneurs

Perhaps most notably, UANSP04 initially intimated that he had hunted for artefacts once, then eventually stated that he was an artefact-hunter in a community of artefact-hunters; UANSP07 stated that he had been artefact-hunting for several years; UANSP13 stated that he was an artefact-hunter; UANSP18 stated that he was an artefact-hunter and that he found three or four plantations a season while hunting for artefacts; UANSP20 stated that he was an artefact-hunter; and UANSP12 stated that he had engaged in artefact-hunting.

UANSP19 intimated knowledge of artefact-hunting, as he asked UANSP18 about his share of any finds. UANSP16 was considering participating in artefact-hunting.

Furthermore, UANSP01 was friends with numerous artefact-hunters who made a living from the activity; UANSP05 was well-acquainted with at least one artefact-hunter and appeared to be somewhat-acquainted with several more; UANSP02 was friends with another cannabis-cultivator, who was friends with an artefact-hunter.

So, at least five of the cannabis-cultivators were also artefact-hunters; at least one more at least had been an artefact-hunter; at least another one was considering becoming an artefact-hunter. A further three of the cannabis-cultivators were friends or friends of friends with artefact-hunters.

These combinations of illegal services by criminal entrepreneurs and overlaps in the criminal networks of antiquities looters and narcotics producers echo other, often anecdotal or piecemeal and often denied or downplayed, evidence of intersections between these criminal economies.

They suggest the diverse livelihoods of precarious workers in insecure societies with transitional economies, who often also engage in game-hunting, fishing, (culinary) mushroom-farming and/or other activities that generate supplementary goods and/or incomes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: