Thoughts From Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime Class

I am taking a course in Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime and we were asked to discuss some points about legislation in the US with regard to restricting the transport and shipment of artifacts from Mali.

We were asked to read the submitted comments to Congress by Dr. Hardy, which can be found here. And then we were given some questions to respond to….I think this is a topic which needs to be known on some level by everyone! So I am going to post the questions and my response to the questions below.

What do you think about the situation that Dr. Hardy presents in Looting, the subsistence digging economy in Mali; and stemming the flow of looted antiquities from Mali to the USA?
I think that it is sad; however, it is not uncommon, and will not be fixed overnight. There is a much larger problem that needs to be addressed and sorted in order to have measured success in stemming the flow of stolen artifacts from any insecure area. I do like that his opinion is supported by evidence that clearly implies the realness of the issue and the contributing factors of the issue. Americans have such a desire to just fix “the problem” instantly without looking for and addressing the underlying contributing factors that lead to “the problem”, not that Europe is much better in that regard either. There are NO easy fixes and there is NO 1 idea that will fix this either.
Why might someone choose to loot an archaeological site? Why might others oppose the looting? 
Looting can be carried out for a number of reasons; however, for this discussion let’s focus on subsistence diggers. They are usually poorly educated without marketable skills in remote, unstable, poor areas. They lack access to proper education or healthcare or skill training. They are in short hopeless. Yet, they have themselves and their families to provide for somehow. What options have they been given other than to loot? Especially if you also have the added instability of conflicts and natural disasters.
I would imagine, without insult, that among the societal group that we are focusing on there will not be many that would oppose the looting. However, I would surmise that it would be those that still held out strong belief in the old ways, such as the shamans and wise men and women of the tribes; for these special individuals would be the most knowledgeable about what the group was losing and the finality of that loss to the group and the future health and existence of that group….the easiest and surest way to eliminate a group from existence is to eliminate its history from existence.
Should looters in poor countries be punished for their crimes?
Yes, but, the punishment should be one that truly resolves the probability of future illegal actions by the looters. What does this mean? It means that either instead of jailing, or while they are ‘jailed’ for their crime, that they are properly educated; whether it is becoming literate and or learning a marketable skill and or a basic education, but it should be in regard to the heart of the culture of the group that the subsistence digger belongs to. Thus, do not educate in a manner that means he has to illegally immigrate to another country to find a job, nor that he is only literate in a language that is not of his culture. By doing either of the aforementioned you are actually re-enforcing the idea that his culture does not have value or a place and that looting the history of his culture was not wrong and thus his punishment was wrong and you have instead instilled bitterness to nurture the hopelessness that will foster animosity. Also, include in the punishment a means by which with respect and dignity the individual may restitute for his injury to the group, have him help protect the sites or help with the excavations in some way, he needs value, worth.
What are some ways that the looting of archaeological sites may be prevented in poor source countries?
The basis of any attempt to protect the archaeological sites must include the local societal group as a primary and valuable asset. They need to have reasons not to turn their backs on their own history. These sites need to be the heart of a whole new life for these peoples. I do know that funding is hard, but imagination and creativity should be able to incorporate the local group into the investigations and various aspects, directly and indirectly. I know that some archaeologists do try to make lasting positive relationships with the local group and help them as much as they can, but there needs to be a broader involvement of all the peoples that will benefit from this history that ensures that the locals have some level of improvement from their support of the investigations at the sites. It should not just be the governments and the officials that reap the rewards of the discoveries of the history that belongs to all!
Looting and the illegal trade of artifacts and art are as much a crime against humanity as genocide is, for one you are erasing the culture by erasing the living members of the culture and the other you are erasing them by erasing their history and thus their identity. And both should be treated the same way, those that are used by the powerful and rich for their own sorted goals, in this case the subsistence diggers, should not be held to the same standard as those that create, finance, facilitate, and, in some cases, legalize the crime!

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.