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SYMPOSIUM 8-9 Nov. 2023 - Understand the Looting And Illicit Trafficking Of Archaeological Artefacts

The first international Symposium organized in the framework of the ANCHISE project “The economic and social context of illicit trafficking in archaeological artefacts" took place on November 8 and 9, 2023 at the University of Poitiers (France), with 23 communications, 35 speakers, and in front of a diverse audience, made up of heritage and legal professionals from Europe and beyond (archaeologists, historians, art historians, geographers, lawyers, students, computer scientists).

With more than 260 registered people, the impressive participation to the Symposium highlighted the great interest for both the topic and the ANCHISE project. The main goal of this conference was to allow parallel explanations of the broad socio-economic context which favours the traffic of cultural goods in the Euro-Mediterranean zone (as a source, transit and sales region), and specific case studies linked to a particular area or a specific phenomenon. The approach was to give the voice to a diversity of perspectives and ensure discussions between the participants.

The organization of the sessions was pyramidal, separated into four increasingly precise strata.

The first session, “Political economy and sociology of trafficking in cultural goods”, led by the Institute of Political Studies of Florence, was devoted to a global vision of the phenomenon through five interventions, increasingly targeted, from the place of this trafficking in the economy of the Middle East up to the profiles of crime in a context of war in Ukraine.

The second session "Cross-views: archaeology facing the looting and trafficking in the Mediterranean and the Middle East areas" was a paralleling of seven experiences and scientific studies of archaeologists confronted with the various forms of looting of entire regions, since from industrial looting in the Middle East to metal detecting in Western Europe.

The third session, “Actors and roads, circulation and money laundering”, divided into six presentations, targeted the archaeological artefacts, once sent to or on the international market, from a study of the convergence of crimes to the strategies used by merchants to facilitate the circulation of objects.

The last session, with five communications, “Art market and fight against illicit trafficking, findings and perspectives” made it possible to draw parallels between market reactions and methods of fighting against trafficking, and to open historical perspectives through two case studies, one on a private Swiss collection and the other on the long history of trafficking in Khmer art. This session was ended by a round table bringing together three experts on the art market, which allowed them to present their difficulties but also their professional challenges in front of these issues, of which awareness is sadly too recent.

The end of these two days was marked by a three-voice conclusion from eminent experts, making it possible to summarize the communications but also to highlight the gaps and the other perspectives to be opened. Marina Schneider (UNIDROIT) insisted on the legal aspects, little mentioned because they fall outside the spectrum of this event; Ted Oakes (Europa Nostra) placed the conference from a historical perspective; Frédérique Duyrat (Ashmolean Museum) highlighted how far we still have to go.

This symposium offered the unique occasion to enter deeply into all the diversity of the causes, the techniques and the consequences of the looting of archaeological sites in diverse countries, from Europe and North Africa to Cambodia and Peru. But it also offered the possibility to follow the process of illegal sales and laundering of the archaeological material from little galleries to huge economical actors. It changed our traditional perspective on the ways of trafficking, providing new profiles of looting operations, new characterization of looters, new evidence of the broad illegal market and its recent adaptations.


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