Nick Romeo reports for National Geographic that the economic downturn in Greece may be leading to a spike in looting of ancient sites. Apparently there has been an increase in the applications for permits to use metal detectors:
As the Greek economic crisis has intensified over the past five years, police detectives with the Greek Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage have noticed not only that illegal excavations and thefts of archaeological artifacts increased, but also that the typical profile of looters has changed.
Before the crisis, many looters were members of criminal networks that also trafficked in guns and narcotics. Now it appears that regular people with access to tools for digging are unearthing pieces of Greece’s past and selling them for quick cash.
This surge comes at a time when agencies charged with protecting the country’s antiquities are underfunded and understaffed because of government budget cuts.
“We need more staff, more people,” said Evgenios Monovasios, a lieutenant in the Security Police Division of Attica. He estimated that in all of Greece there are roughly 60 employees who work exclusively to prevent and disrupt looting. While cooperation with local police departments across Greece expands this capacity, it’s difficult to monitor more than a fraction of the country’s vast and varied landscape, which ranges from the mountainous north to hundreds of islands in the Aegean and Ionian Seas.
“It would take an army to catch everything,” said Elena Korka, the Director General of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage. “It’s impossible not to find antiquities in Greece; they are literally everywhere.”
The increase in looting in Greece can be connected to the economic stagnation there, and also the limited resources the heritage officials have to combat this destruction. How much both of these factors contribute to looting is debatable. What is not debatable is the appetite of the antiquities trade for ancient works of art without documented histories continues to lead to the loss of context and damages Greece’s (and our) heritage.
- Nick Romeo, Strapped for Cash, Some Greeks Turn to Ancient Source of Wealth National Geographic News, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/08/150817-greece-looting-artifacts-financial-crisis-archaeology/ (last visited Aug 18, 2015).