Sunday, July 21, 2013

International Journal of Cultural Property

International Journal of Cultural Property / Volume 20 / Issue 02 / May 2013, pp 113-153

DOI: (About DOI), Published online: 19 June 2013

The Illicit Antiquities Trade as a Transnational Criminal Network: Characterizing and Anticipating Trafficking of Cultural Heritage

Peter B. Campbell

Archaeology, University of Southampton, Avenue Campus, Highfield, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK. Email:
The illicit antiquities trade is composed of a diverse population of participants that gives the appearance of complexity; however, using the network paradigm, a simple underlying structure is revealed based on specific geographical, economic, political, and cultural rules. This article uses a wide range of source material to chart interactions from source to market using a criminal network approach. Interchangeable participants are connected through single interactions to form loosely based networks. These flexible network structures explain the variability observed within the trade, as well as provide the basis behind ongoing debates about the roles of organized crime, terrorism, and the Internet in antiquities trafficking. Finally, a network understanding of trade's organization allows for anticipation, though not necessarily prediction, of antiquities trafficking and offers the opportunity to develop new strategies for combating the trade.


The author would like to thank the editor and the two anonymous reviewers, whose comments greatly improved this article. Sam Hardy was an invaluable sounding board and gave advice throughout the writing process. Gretchen Peters kindly provided advice and contacts about Afghan trafficking. The author would like to thank Jessica Dietzler and Blythe Bowman Proulx for help on an earlier article that discussed some of the ideas in this article, though it ultimately was not published. Lucy Blue, Jesse Ransley, and William Campbell provided valuable feedback on early drafts. Illicit antiquities research is a small but dedicated field and a synthesis such as this would not be possible without the scholarship of individuals like Paul Barford, Neil Brodie, David Chippendale, Ricardo Elia, David Gill, and Simon MacKenzie to name just a few.


The fact that Campbell cites the notoriously radical archaelogy-blogger (and sometime archaeologist)  Paul Barford as one of his most important sources speaks for itself.

Barford is well known as an extremist of the most bitter, and unnecessarily provocative, stripe. His blog is replete with unpleasantly worded, derogatory and absolutely uncalled-for terminology, with which he incessantly attacks collectors and antiquities dealers. His repetitive and unjustified criticism of the antiquities trade and antiquities collectors is founded not upon laws and regulation, but upon his own unique radical theory: that provenance is essential and that no one should be allowed to possess or trade in unprovenanced antiquities.

This narrow-minded perspective is shared only amongst a small group of the most unreasonably radical archaeologists, amongst whom Michael Mueller-Karpe is a notorious example.

Mueller-Karpe is a German and Near East archaeologist emloyed among the scientific staff at the Department of History in Mainz.

curriculum vitae

Archaeologist Michael Mueller-Karpe is the son of Hermann Mueller-Karpe . He studied prehistory and early history, ancient Near Eastern Archeology and Assyriology, Arabic, classical archeology, Egyptology and ancient history at the Ruprecht-Karls -University of Heidelberg, the University of the Saarland in saarbrã¼cken and the Ludwig-Maximilians -University in Munich. Muller-Karpe completed his doctorate in 1987 at the Ruprecht-Karls -University of Heidelberg with his dissertation metal receptacles in the Iraq, from its inception to the Akkad-Zeit .

Mueller-Karpe was curator of the first Vortaunus-Museums in Oberursel, where he from 1971 to 1974 organized and set up the Oberursel's scholarly publications. The Working Group of the Oberursel's archaeological faculty was initiated by Michael Mueller-Karpe together with his brother Andrew. Since 1976 he has studied Mesopotamian metal objects in museums of Iraq, the United Kingdom, France, Denmark, the United States and Germany. Between 1985 and 1990 he supervised the Uruk-Warka -collection at the University of Heidelberg. This activity was connected with the building of a collection (1985 to 1990).

The main research area for Mueller-Karpes is metallic artifacts from Mesopotamia. Since 1974, he has regularlyexcavated in Iraq. Since 1974 he has participated in numerous excavations in Iraq and has been among other things, since 1993, responsible for the coordination of activities of the roman-germanic Museum in Mainz in the Middle East, especially in Iraq.

Mueller-Karpe is notorious for his anticollecting extremism, and had the negative distinction of being severely rebuked as "detached from reality and unfit for any governmental position" by the judge in an important trial involving cultural property theft charges, ultimately resulting in the acquittal of the defendant.

He has been highly praised by Barford for "fighting the good fight" and for his unflagging willingness to take things to extremes on any and every occasion.


Clearly this radical extremist is so far removed from the mainstream of archaeological thinking that his views must be dismissed as irrelevant insofar as cultural property law is concerned. That irrelevance  ipso facto completely discredits what Barford, and by extension Campbell, maintain to be the standard of ethics for antiquities collectors and dealers.



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