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While there is a good argument to end the entire antiquities trade, at present it is legal to purchase archaeological artefacts provided they fulfill certain specific requirements. These requirements are intended to reduce the likelihood that the artefacts for sale were recently looted from archaeological sites or museums, and rely upon the stringent laws that the countries most affected by antiquities theft have enacted over the last decades. Historically (and particularly before 1950) the legality of purchasing or exporting antiquities varied greatly depending on their country of origin and thus there are ongoing legal and ethical debates about certain artefacts in museum and private collections. While these debates are illuminating, they are a large subject and do not have much bearing on the current legal framework or the myths that surround the modern antiquities trade.
It is widely recognised that removing artefacts from archaeological sites without proper excavation, recording or archaeological analysis destroys vast amounts of scientific information and the knowledge of the ancient world that this would undoubtedly produce. This destruction affects both the antiquities sold on to the open market without provenance and other artefacts, structures and deposits removed with the antiquity and then discarded, which could otherwise contribute to scientific knowledge.
Those who wish to justify the the purchase of black market antiquities often argue that their purchases do not contribute to the ongoing looting of archaeological sites in an attempt to minimise or justify their actions.
Proponents of this myth fundamentally misunderstand the nature of archaeological artefacts. Unlike diamonds a key element of the value (both scientific and economic) of antiquities is their provenance. The more precise that provenance, the more can be learned from an artefact. Those who purchase black market antiquities that have been stripped of that provenance through looting from an archaeological site or theft from a museum, are not increasing but destroying the value of those objects and any others that are removed (deliberately or accidentally) at the same time.
An additional problem of the lack of provenance associated with black market antiquities is that it leaves room for fakes to enter the market. Fakes have always been a problem for collectors and there have been a number of high-profile cases where even artefacts purchased through legal channels have been identified as fakes. Black market objects carry an even greater risk of forgery. Furthermore, antiquities with a religious theme are particularly popular with forgers and those with religious motives are often targeted by them, perhaps because the desire to believe they are genuine outweighs caution amongst certain purchasers. Recent examples include the various biblical forgeries created over decades by Oded Galan and the famous Gospel of Jesus Wife debacle. Not only have Hobby Lobby reduced the scientific and economic value of the artefacts they purchased, they placed themselves at risk of being duped by forgers.
Aside from the desperate desire of some to argue that purchasing black market antiquities has no effect on looting, this myth may also be a result of ignorance of the amount of archaeological material still left in situ at sites across the world. Given the long period of research across many areas, especially in the Middle East, some people find it hard to believe there is anything left in the ground.
Many, if not all, black market antiquities from the ancient Near East are likely to have been looted recently from sites in Iraq and Syria. The scale of the looting that has taken place is unprecedented. This has prompted researchers like Sarah Parcak and groups like EAMENA and the Trafficking Culture group to undertake research into the extent of looting. Their work has been widely reported and even prompted the creation of the Global Xplorer platform to crowd-source the recording of evidence of looting in satellite imagery.
Others accept that purchasing black market antiquities contributes to the looting of archaeological sites, but argue that it is a necessary evil . Otherwise, so the argument goes, these objects would be lost to both science and the public either through destruction or by entering private collections.
This argument is often deployed if (like Hobby Lobby) the purchaser wants to put black market antiquities on public display in a museum; if the artefact was formerly in a state with a regime disliked by the purchaser; or if the artefact was found by chance and would have been destroyed.
Those rightful owners are the people of the country where the museum or archaeological site is located. It is immaterial whether you like the government of that country because archaeological artefacts are not the property of the ruler of a country (whether an autocrat or an elected government). Rulers and governments come and go, but museum artefacts are intended to be available for generations to admire, research and learn from. This is why so many individuals in the archaeological and museums community were so angry at the sale of the Sekhemka statue by Northampton Museum. The statue was sold by the local authority under whose purview the museum came and who treated it as if it was their property, when it rightly belonged to the present and future population of that town. (Ironically the Sekhemka statue was undoubtedly looted from an archaeological site in the 19th century, an age when the purchase and export of antiquities was legal and before the current stringent antiquities laws came into force).
This myth is often deployed in conjunction with one or more of the earlier ones to argue that purchasing looted antiquities is a necessary evil, which does little archaeological damage and is a victimless crime.
Tell that to Khaleed el-Asaad, the archaeologist murdered in Palmyra in 2015 because he refused to give up the location of the most valuable antiquities. Or to the two guards murdered at Deir el-Bersha in Egypt by gangsters who came looting. These are just two of the most egregious examples, but many other local people, archaeologists, guardians and site workers have been threatened, injured, coerced and exploited by those seeking to loot archaeological sites and museums.
Like any illegal trade black market antiquities attract people who are happy to operate outside the law. This is includes gangsters, mafiosi, criminals of all kinds, and terrorists. Such people do not generally respect labour or property laws so the ordinary people who find artefacts or who live and work where sites are located are often exploited and threatened. Those who do the hard and dangerous work of looting may not get paid at all and if they do it will be a tiny faction of price ultimately paid for an antiquity. Most of the money made from the illegal trade goes to the various criminals, gangsters and terrorists with the connections to sell on black market antiquities, who use it to continue their various criminal enterprises, exploitation, abuse and murder. As has been pointed out, this is not just about the group known as ISIS, although they have certainly profited from looted antiquities. Many other unpleasant groups and individuals, criminals and gangsters gain from black market antiquities all over the world. Purchasing black market antiquities is not a victimless crime, it puts money in the pockets of ruthless criminals of all kinds and encourages their continued exploitation, coercion and, sometimes, murder of ordinary people and archaeologists.
It is also illegal to export antiquities that were discovered after 1978, and in order to be sure that current archaeological artifacts do not leave the country; each item must have a certificate from a licensed antiquities dealer.
Here at Zak Mishriky Antiquities and Fine Art, we are licensed by the Israel Antiquities authority to buy and sell antiquities. Our items are documented as being discovered before 1978 and are purchased legally by museum auctions and collectors. Each of our items has been cataloged through the IAA database, and when you purchase an antiquity from our store, it comes with a certificate of authenticity and export approval documents.
In addition to the historical significance, buying legal antiquities is also a great investment. The price of antiquities increases over time because of the limited supply. Although condition plays an enormous role in the value of a piece, there are set prices for most antiquities, and they continue to rise over time. For example, a bronze 25mm diameter Simon Bar Kochba (132-135 A.D.) coin in very fine condition was valued at $250-$270 in 2000 at an Israel Antiquities Authority licensed auction, and in 2014, the same coin was valued at $550-$580. Another example is a Roman glass cosmetics bottle as shown below. There is a very limited supply of legal antiquities, so their value continues to rise. This makes buying antiquities a great investment. Bar Kochba Roman Glass
Buying antiquities is a great investment, but unfortunately because of this, there is always a risk of purchasing fakes. The easiest way to know an antiquity is real is to purchase it from an experienced, authorized dealer. There is no one rule for determining the authenticity of a piece, and verifying that a piece is genuine takes years of experience. Although you can read about how to find fakes, and look at different criteria, it is only through handling antiquities for many years that one can truly determine if a piece is authentic or not. 041b061a72