• gerard van weyenbergh

Antique looters using Facebook

The antiquities traffic monitoring center and the anthropological heritage research project noted an upsurge in activity on the social networks of looters of objects in North Africa and the Near East.

At the end of April, a mosque was looted in Morocco, as evidenced by images posted on Facebook by the seller who sought to prove the authenticity of the pieces he wanted to sell. Thus, groups of looters share information in peace on this social network using false identities. Taking advantage of the confinement imposed in many countries, they looted the Olympus museum in Greece, the Kyiv museum during a demonstration between the police and protesters, and other places in the Middle East where terrorist groups are still active, especially in Syria, Iraq, Yemen or Libya.

Therefore, it is up to Facebook and other social networks to be more vigilant in getting rid of unwanted groups to slow down their activities, knowing that they will find other ways to sell their fraudulent loot.

Besides, 98% of archaeological antiquities transactions in Germany are doubtful, especially concerning pieces from Syria or Iraq, according to a study published in March by the German Cultural Foundation, which looked at 6,000 objects offered to the sale for three years in Germany.

Researchers working for the foundation determined that objects from Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq or Cyprus had unverified provenances. More than 56% of them could not be authenticated after analysis, which would imply an intensive trade in fakes.

Germany is at the epicenter of illegal trafficking in Europe due to its prosperity and many immigrants from the Middle East, including traffickers often working for Daesh. On the other hand, the laws protect collectors, which therefore makes any return process difficult.

The foundation said 40% of the antiquities analyzed came from Syria or Iraq alone despite the EU's restrictive measures. Out of 2387 pieces analyzed, only 0.4% and 9.6% respectively from Iraq and Syria were legally found on the German market.

The problem is that the provenances are difficult to establish when the objects offered on the market do not appear in the Art Lost Register of stolen pieces or have not been in known collections while many pieces have remained buried in the ground for millennia before being unearthed recently. Some legal pieces do not have concrete origins, especially since Roman antiquity does not necessarily come from Italy since the empire extended to Iraq in the Middle East and the Mediterranean Basin.

On the other hand, the European police must prove that the parts seized come from looting and, if so, in which countries, which represents a considerable amount of work that requires financial and human resources. It remains to correct collectors and auction houses' attitudes if we want to curb the trafficking of illicit objects, especially from countries where corruption has not been contained.

It is, therefore, necessary to strengthen the laws and improve the archiving of items sold since the end of the Second World War while using new technologies, not to mention that it would be good to catalog fakes. Simultaneously, increased surveillance of the market is necessary, but buying archaeological pieces becomes more and more perilous. © Adrian Darmon