Inflated estimates bring bad attention too

Antiquities dealers seem to suggest the market value of these kinds of antiquities is very low. 

Ben Taub reported for the New Yorker on the real market value of the antiquities which are being looted and sold from ISIS-controlled territory. It seems the estimates are very, very inflated. Not a surprise given what we know about estimates of looting.

Taub reports on the event organized at the Metropolitan Museum of Art earlier this Fall:

There was a reception afterward in front of the Temple of Dendur, built two thousand years ago to honor a very different Isis—the Egyptian goddess of motherhood, nature, and magic. It is precisely the kind of structure ISIS would love to destroy. Standing before its sandstone gate, Hartung told me that he’d left something out of his presentation: the Rewards for Justice program also applies to oil smuggling, which accounts for hundreds of millions of dollars ofISIS revenue. When I asked a government spokesperson whether targeting illegal oil buyers was the real focus of the initiative, she said, “Shame on you!” and suggested that any Syrian antiquities left intact could play a part in reviving the country’s tourism industry after the war.

I later found Hixenbaugh, the antiquities dealer, standing near the floor-to-ceiling windows, sipping complimentary wine. He looked exasperated. He felt that some speakers had made “outlandish” appraisals. In a segment about the conference, CBS News reported that ISIS generated “hundreds of millions of dollars” from antiquities transactions, although that figure—which rivals the annual haul of antiquities sold legally throughout the entire world—was not mentioned onstage. “We’re looking at objects that are worth hundreds of dollars here,” Hixenbaugh told me. “When we say that these antiquities are worth millions of dollars, I think that prompts people to pick up shovels in eastern Syria. Are we not adding to the problem right now, by hyperbolic assessments of value?”

When in doubt, some put notoriety before good judgment and sober fact-finding. These large estimates, which are perhaps meant to shift the needle of public action, may induce some to loot, thinking wrongly that there is a much bigger reward based on these reports. One hopes this would give pause to even the hackiest of art crime scholars.

  1. Ben Taub, The Real Value of the ISIS Antiquities Trade, The New Yorker, (last visited Dec 4, 2015)

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