December 2, 2010

Summary of Erik Nemeth's Presentation at the 2010 ASC Conference

ARCA Trustee Erik Nemeth ( and has forwarded on a summary of his thoughtful panel presentation at the American Society of Criminology annual meeting. The presentation, "Cultural Intelligence: data sources on the motivation and means for trafficking" crystallizes I think the systemic nature of the illicit trade in antiquities, and the need for further rigorous examination of the trade across the relevant disciplines. His summary follows:

The annual multibillion-dollar illicit market in movable cultural property motivates looting in developing nations. As demonstrated from Latin America in the midst of the Cold War era to South-central Asia in the post-Cold War period, organized crime may take advantage of limited security in “source nations” by recruiting locals to loot. In African nations, the corruption extends into the public sector with bribes to customs officers and collusion with staff of cultural ministries. On a transnational level, the risk that revenues from trafficking may fund insurgencies and terrorist groups has alerted law enforcement agencies to the implications for international security. The degree of the security threat posed by looting ultimately depends on the market value of the artworks and the intersections with trafficking in weapons and narcotics. Quantitative analysis of the market value and mapping the trafficking networks illustrate the potential of specialized “art intelligence” to enable countermeasures to mitigate, and optimally forestall, threats to cultural identity.

The traditionally clandestine nature of the art market poses challenges to assessing looting and trafficking in developing nations. In the absence of direct information on transactions in ource nations,sales at auction provide a sense of the market value and trade volume of antiquities and primitive art. Auction houses openly publish results of auctions and enable access to sales archives through web sites. On-line access to sales archives creates a substantive pool of data on hammer prices from auctions around the world. Sales archives also contain detailed descriptions of the artworks. The description that accompanies an auction lot can identify the geographic origin of the artwork. Data mining of sales archives for hammer price and origin enables analysis of market value by source nation. The analysis assesses relative market value and, thereby, contributes to an assessment of relative risks of looting across developing nations.

Any threat of looting has serious implications for the cultural identity of local communities, but the market value that motivates looting has implications for the severity and extent of the threat. Large demand in market nations and high market value increases the scale of looting and the range of parties with vested interest. A large market for artworks from a particular source nation increases the likelihood that organized crime will invest in developing trafficking networks and in recruiting locals to loot. As the involvement of organized crime increases, the opportunities for corruption within government also increase. An assessment of the relative risk of looting informs policy on the protection of cultural patrimony. With an understanding of the magnitudes of risk facing different source nations, market nations can strategically focus resources to engage actors in the art market and local governments.


Post a Comment