Tracking how antiquities get stolen and sold on the black market

Evidence of looting in Angkor. Source: The Cambodia Daily 20140618

A new study published in the British Journal of Criminology reveals the inner workings of a statue trafficking network in Cambodia and Thailand and sheds light on how the particular form of organised crime works.

Evidence of looting in Angkor. Source: The Cambodia Daily 20140618
Evidence of looting in Angkor. Source: The Cambodia Daily 20140618

Temple Looting in Cambodia: Anatomy of a Statue Trafficking Network
Simon Mackenzie and Tess Davis
British Journal of Criminology 2014, doi: 10.1093/bjc/azu038

New Evidence Ties Illegal Antiquities Trade to Terrorism, Violent Crime
National Geographic News, 13 June 2014

Study Details Sophisticated Temple-Looting Ring
Cambodia Daily, 18 June 2014

Qualitative empirical studies of the illicit antiquities trade have tended to focus either on the supply end, through interviews with looters, or on the demand end, through interviews with dealers, museums and collectors. Trafficking of artefacts across borders from source to market has until now been something of an evidential black hole. Here, we present the first empirical study of a statue trafficking network, using oral history interviews conducted during ethnographic criminology fieldwork in Cambodia and Thailand. The data begin to answer many of the pressing but unresolved questions in academic studies of this particular criminal market, such as whether organized crime is involved in antiquities looting and trafficking (yes), whether the traffic in looted artefacts overlaps with the insertion of fakes into the market (yes) and how many stages there are between looting at source and the placing of objects for public sale in internationally respected venues (surprisingly few).

The paper can be accessed here.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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