Brodie on the Market in Iraqi Antiquities

Neil Brodie, now at the Stanford University Archaeology Center, has posted a work in progress “
The market in Iraqi antiquities 1980-2008“. I highly recommend giving the text a read, but here are a few highlights:

  • It is clear that during the period in question [1990 to 2003] and despite UNSCR 661 the quantities of unprovenanced artefacts being offered for sale did not diminish; in fact if anything they increased over the years running up to 2003.
  • Since April 2003, the sale of unprovenanced Iraqi artifacts at public auction in New York and London has stopped entirely, perhaps because of the widespread negative publicity that followed on from the break-in at the National Museum, or because of UNSCR 1483.
  • After 2003, outside the auction market, Iraqi artifacts continued to be openly traded on the Internet. On one day – 5 December 2006 – there were at least 55 websites offering antiquities for sale and that might have been expected to sell Iraqi objects.
  • Circular saws are not the tools of archaeologists, and traces of their use are clear evidence that the “bricks” were removed destructively from their architectural context and cut down in size to facilitate their illegal transport from Iraq.

I think the final point is most damning of all, describing pretty clearly that many of the “bricks” appearing on the internet have been cut with circular saws, surely not the tool of an archaeologists, if there was any doubt that these objects were removed from their context by legitimate, legal means.

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3 thoughts on “Brodie on the Market in Iraqi Antiquities”

  1. The point about circular saws is a good one, but I suspect that technology probably has been available for years. Thus, I am not sure that it suggests anything about recent looting. Also, when you are talking large items as opposed to easily concealable ones like cylinder seals, one suspects the likelihood of some “official involvement” increases. For whatever reason, Brodie like many other members of the archaeological community, are more likely to blame looting in Iraq on the effect of UN Sanctions than on the corrupt system in place during the Saddam Hussein years.


    Peter Tompa

  2. So since circular saws have been around for a while and dealers don’t like to disclose provenance, since it might shed some real light on their sources and activities, we should give the benefit of the doubt (“good faith”)to the profiteers and the people who want to be able to buy and sell this stuff indiscriminately? I’m afraid I don’t follow that line of reasoning.


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