Later in the week Leon Saryan passed along a follow-on article from The Guardian, warning the recovery of items stolen from the British Museum could take decades.
Close observers of the antiquities market tend to be a cynical bunch, having witnessed any number of scams, dubious practices and illicit trading. Yet there was a collective expression of shock among them last week when news emerged of the unexplained absence of a reported around 2,000 items from the British Museum's priceless collection of ancient and historical artefacts, leading to the resignation of director Hartwig Fischer.
The volume of missing objects is huge, says Christos Tsirogiannis, a forensic archaeologist who works with Trafficking Culture, which researches global traffic in looted cultural objects.
No experts were expecting this to happen in one of the world's biggest museums.
Christopher Marinello agrees. The CEO of Art Recovery International, which specialises in recovering stolen art, he says:
Our organisation gets reports of theft every single day from various museums, cultural institutions, churches around the world. What surprised us was the fact that it was the British Museum, one of the most important museums in the world and a benchmark in security.
It will take decades, says Marinello, outlining the legal and forensic complexities of tracing items, many of which appear not to have been properly, or at least publicly, catalogued.
Marinello, an American lawyer who works out of a London office, says he is responsible for recovering some £475m worth of stolen art over the years, working on behalf of museums, collectors, dealers, artists, governments, cultural and religious institutions and insurance companies from Bolivia to Cambodia, Sweden to Iraq.
That recovery is greatly helped by solid evidence of provenance and speed of reaction, both of which appear lacking in this case. Each item that is sought has to be uniquely identifiable for proof that it is the one in question. If there is a delay in searching for stolen items, there is the possibility that they may change hands several times in a number of different jurisdictions.
If the parties in each transaction claim that they acted in the belief that it was a legal trade, then the reclaimer's job grows significantly more difficult.
There is a lot of myth-making around the illicit trade in antiquities, which is often billed as the world's third-largest illegal trading activity after narcotics and arms. However, as an academic paper published in the journal Antiquity earlier this year argues, there is little statistical evidence to back up that claim, not least because in such a murky market it's very difficult to establish hard facts.
But even if the trade is only worth hundreds of millions of dollars, rather than the multi-billions frequently cited, that's still an awful lot of trade in which it pays not to be too curious about how objects came to be in possession of the seller.
To read the complete article, see:
‘Nobody was expecting it': British Museum warned reputation seriously damaged and treasures will take decades to recover
Wayne Homren, Editor
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