Last Thursday ARCA sponsored an antiquities panel held at the American Society of Criminology meeting in San Francisco. It was a lively panel, and I always enjoy getting a chance to discuss these issues in person, to an interested audience. San Francisco was a great setting for this kind of thing, and though the conference hotel was located near the Tenderloin, in the old stomping grounds of Dashiell hammett, I managed to restrain myself and avoid making any pained “Maltese Falcon” references, though I’m unable to resist here. What follows are a few of my thoughts which I jotted down during the panel.
Kimberly Alderman began the panel by examining the connections between art crime and organized crime and the drug trade. The connection matters, as it may be one way to help highlight the problem of the theft and looting of sites, as organized crime and illegal drug sales will draw the attention of law enforcement more readily. Yasmeen Hussain followed, and discussed the role of antiquities issues in international relations. I was really struck that there may be more room in the debate for political scientists to weigh in on these issues in a more direct way, perhaps offering frameworks for useful dialogues which can “build capacity” as Yasmeen argued. Erik Nemeth followed and really opened my ideas to the idea of “cultural intelligence” and the need to assess the “tactical and strategic significance of antiquities and cultural heritage sites”. I ended the panel by looking in some detail at the Four Corners antiquities investigation, and argued that the criminal offenses at the Federal level are inconsistently applied and do not really do a very good job of regulating and changing the underlying nature of the market.
One interesting idea which emerged from the questions after the panel was Simon Mackenzie’s question about whether the UN definition of organized crime could or should be applied to certain parts of the antiquities trade like auction houses. The definition states that organized criminal groups are “a structured group of three or more persons, existing for a period of time and acting in concert with the aim of committing one or more serious crimes or offences. . .”. Kim responded by noting that even if these groups are not actively and intentionally engaged in the crimes, they may be unwitting actors or play a part in an organized criminal network, referencing the work of Edgar Tijhuis.
Overall, it was a terrific weekend, another Cultural Property panel with Blythe Bowman Proulx, Matthew Pate, Duncan Chappell, and Simon Mackenzie was terrific as well. Thanks to all the panelists, and especially the volunteers who put together Thursday evening’s reception at the Thirsty Bear.