On July 26,
2021, the Antiquities Coalition and George Mason University Terrorism,
Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TrrACC) conducted an on-line
discussion about measuring the illicit trade in antiquities.
participants included Louis Shelly (LS) (TrrACC), Neil Brodie (NB) (Oxford),
Layla Hashemi (LH) (TrrACC), and Ute Wartenberg-Kagan (UWK) (American
Numismatic Society). Patrick Costello
(PC) (Council on Foreign Relations) served as the moderator.
the discussion is part of a “big data analysis” performed by TrrACC under a
State Department contract. It looked at
both the low end and high-end markets using methods including advanced
technologies developed by DARPA to review the Dark Web.
evidently will be published in a book by Rutledge.
In 2013, NB
valued the antiquities market at $64-300 million. The coin market is valued at $56-$300
million. RAND’s study did not value the
that the coin market comprises of a low-end and a high-end market. The low-end market found on eBay is huge with
over 2 million pieces offered valued at $40-$100 million. The low-end market represents a significant
problem that collectors, archaeologists and the trade should address.
NB says valuing
the trade is a fool’s errand and we should instead focus on the damage the
trade causes. There are ways to estimate
the values of artifacts extracted from archaeological sites.
one must also assess tangible and intangible impacts to cultural heritage,
links to terrorism, and funding conflicts.
Technology lowers the barriers to entry into the market meaning gray
market participants can act with impunity.
There is some
discussion of free ports. However, coin
traders do not appear to use free ports.
the total illicit trade of all goods (not just antiquities and coins) is $2-$3
looting during conflicts does not only harm cultural heritage directly, but the
conflicts also drive qualified academics out of countries where they could
assess the damage.
that it is difficult to explain to villagers why it is not a good idea to
loot. In places like Turkey this is even
more difficult because those who work the land often do so for absentee
the coin trade still purchases fresh coins where it believes it is legal to do
so under U.S. law. She also indicates
there are disagreements whether the proper date to assess the provenance for a
coin should be the 1970 date of the UNESCO Convention or the date of a
Memorandum of Understanding with a source country. She indicates the focus should be to keeping
coins that have been illicitly excavated recently off the market.
that the antiquities trade will soon be subject to Anti-Money laundering
regulations, but the art and coin trade should also be subject to such
that he is doubtful that established antiquities dealers sell recently looted
artifacts, but he indicates that they regularly sell artifacts looted decades
that much of the low-end market is sold on Facebook despite rules against
selling antiquities on that platform.
There are not
many antiquities on the Dark Web, but that is because they are sold openly on
other platforms. If there is a crackdown on these platforms, it is possible
business will move onto the Dark Web.
There also is
some use of crypto currency to purchase antiquities which may raise some
NB indicates it
is hard to get people motivated to protect sites unless tourist dollars are at
issue. Farmers typically aren’t
interested in preserving sites. It is
difficult enough to convince people not to loot, but impossible when there is a
conflict and people are desperate.
are helpful to disincentivize unlawful activity. There are members of DHS law enforcement on
the zoom call.
training the military about cultural heritage is a waste of resources.
UWK indicates a
major problem is the lack of resources directed at enforcement. She is pessimistic eBay or Facebook can be
convinced to stop allowing their platforms to sell coins.
antiquities sales should be taxed with the funds going to enforcement.
LS again states
her belief that art in addition to antiquities should be subject to anti-money
LH states her
belief that there are some unsavory actors behind the trade on Facebook.
that Covid has made it harder to move illicit goods.
NB does not
believe the Portable Antiquities Scheme or Treasure Act is an answer. He maintains that finds in the UK are grossly
underreported, and that the PAS encourages looting.
Comment: Very little new information came out of this
presentation. All the participants
except for UWK seemed generally hostile to collecting. LH seemed to be reading Antiquities Coalition
talking points throughout much of the presentation. The content of this seminar should raise
fundamental questions about how studies with inputs solely from activists are
prepared. Additionally, one suspects
funding considerations may also impact how problems are viewed. Here, all
the focus on discouraging demand for antiquities and coins is not surprising
because a holistic approach focused primarily on addressing the causes for
looting at the source would require an acknowledgement that source country
practices are often a major part of the problem. No wonder TraCCC came up with a series of
excuses why its staff could not to meet with representatives of the coin trade
to discuss these issues from a different perspective while its study was
I'm curious about Louis Shelly's wish to apply anti-money laundering regulations to the coin industry. I don't know anything about such regulations. Is he talking about coins with values in excess of $10,000 only?
I believe Ute Wartenberg-Kagan has a large dataset representing online coin transactions. I would be curious to know what precent of coin transactions would trigger anti-money laundering requirements, either in Shelly's view or your view.
We'll find out more when FINCEN takes comments for its upcoming AML regulations for antiquities dealers, however that might be defined. We have advocated for high thresholds, but who knows what they will propose.
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