Archive for ‘Research’


Destructive Exploitation and care of Cultural Objects and Professional/Public Education for sustainable heritage management (DECOPE)

I am delighted to announce that, from today and for the next two years, I’m going to be an Associate Researcher on a project that’s investigating care for and exploitation of heritage during Russia’s war on Ukraine, which is being funded by the Joint Programming Initiative on Cultural Heritage and Global Change – Cultural Heritage, Society and Ethics (JPI CH CHSE).

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a very low estimate of metal-detecting in the United Kingdom, according to the Portable Antiquities Scheme

While I was assessing open-source data on metal-detecting for cultural goods and trying to generate “low estimates” of the numbers of artefact-hunters in various territories, in 2017, the “tentative”, “least worst…, rather than… best” data suggested that there might be around 27,897 in England and Wales, 1,447 in Scotland and 225 in Northern Ireland and, so, a total of 29,569 (so, around 30,000) across the United Kingdom.

Since then, I’ve been criticised in various ways, in public and in private, for those estimates and my methods for reaching them (including my attempt to account for illicit as well as licit artefact-hunters). Yet, now, according to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (as shared by the National Council for Metal Detecting and relayed by Paul Barford on Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues), “there are as many as 40,000 people metal-detecting in the UK”.

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loot and forgeries from Eastern Europe on the market in Western Europe, regardless of Russia’s war on Ukraine

In the course of researching artefact-hunting in Eastern Europe, I found netnographic evidence of transnational trafficking and analyses by ethical collectors of markets in Western Europe for looted antiquities (and forged antiquities) from Eastern Europe. Specifically, I found evidence of looting (and forgery) in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, some of which had been published by artefact-hunters in online forums and social networks, some of which had been published by ethical collectors Lodewijk and Renate, in “an open forum for dealers and collectors of ancient artifacts”. However, I didn’t have space to include it in the study, so I’ve posted it here. (Paul Barford has also commented on the evidence that has been provided by Lodewijk and Renate.)

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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.

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Russia’s destruction of Ukraine’s cultural property is proof of its intent to commit genocide.

Russia’s state media-spread, government official-reinforced programme/manual/handbook of “de-Nazification [денацификация]”, “de-Ukrainisation/de-Ukrainianisation [деукраинизацией]” and “de-Europeanisation [деевропеизация]” in Ukraine is a programme of genocide. And ‘genocide’ of Ukrainians has been the explicit, publicly-expressed desire of Russian ultranationalist ‘Kremlin ideologist Alexander Dugin’, since 2014 (at the latest).

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Russia is subjecting cultural heritage workers and other civilians to the war crime of forced military labour.

Russia has been subjecting civilians in the occupied territories of Ukraine (legally-protected persons) to the war crime of forced military labour (also described as forced military service, forced mobilisation and compulsory enlistment) since 2015.

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There is a market in Belarus for cultural property that has been stolen from Ukraine, pillaged by Russia’s soldiers and mercenaries.

According to the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine (Головне управління розвідки Міністерства оборони України), the invading and occupying ‘Russian military has opened a bazaar for the sale of loot [Російські військові відкрили базар для торгівлі награбованим]’. The proceeds of this war crime include cultural property.

There is no evidence (yet) that this particular market is handling property that is legally protected specifically for its cultural value (on top of its value simply as public or private property), but this already shows the scale and organisation of the pillaging and that the targets of the pillaging include objects of a cultural nature.

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open-source evidence of damage to and destruction of cultural heritage, natural heritage and other civilian objects through Russia’s war in and occupation of Ukraine

These are a few pieces of open-source evidence, primarily summaries of findings of investigations by the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and Truth Hounds, which are part of a study that I’m doing with an archaeologist in Ukraine.

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In 2018, “a chartered Tupolev-154 jetliner” reportedly flew from Kazakhstan to Switzerland, “loaded up” with “antiques, jewelry, works of art and other cargo”.

As we see monuments to dictators get toppled in demonstrations in Kazakhstan, as they were adapted in the Slipper Uprising in Belarus and toppled or adapted in the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine, we can see the causes of this civil resistance in a raft of issues around political unfreedom and socio-economic insecurity, including the theft of wealth by the elite that mires citizens in poverty, which involves the stashing and display of that dirty money in the form of cultural property.

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organised crime in trafficking of cultural goods in Turkey and interconnections between antiquities trafficking and narcotics trafficking, arms trafficking and political violence

I’m delighted to say that my open-source research into organised crime in trafficking of cultural goods in Turkey and interconnections between antiquities trafficking and narcotics trafficking, arms trafficking and political violence has been published in the open-access Antichistica of Edizioni Ca’ Foscari.

Following on from a proof-of-concept study of using open-source data to identify participation in the illicit antiquities trade, an archaeological and historical study of destruction, theft and rescue of archaeological artefacts in Cyprus and a netnography of online social organisation of looting and trafficking of antiquities from Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, this piece explores the history of Turkey-rooted organised crime, including the existence of politically-“protected criminals [Korunan suçlular]” who have served state interests.

It examines the development of the Turkish antiquities mafia over six decades, the functioning of a Turkish-Cypriot antiquities gang from the civil war through the foreign invasions into the occupation and the activities of a Turkish multi-commodity gang in and around the state.

It also traces connections between Mexican narcotraffickers who also handle cultural goods, Turkish ultranationalists who self-finance with narcotic substances and cultural goods and Turkish state-backed Syrian Turkmen jihadists, plus the operations of a Syrian Turkmen jihadist who served as a Turkish intelligence agent and who trafficked antiquities as well as arms.

Amongst these and other things, such as interactions of organised crime with political violence and the rule of law, it draws out evidence of women’s participation in cultural property crime.

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