Book premiere of 'Das schmutzige Geschäft mit der Antike' in the Archäologisches Zentrum

14.08.2015
Archäologisches Zentrum

Yesterday saw the launch of the new book 'Das schmutzige Geschäft mit der Antike', whose full title translates as: 'The Dirty Trade with Antiquity: The Global Trade in Illegal Cultural Artefacts’. The premiere was held in the SMB’s Archäologisches Zentrum. Prof. Markus Hilgert, director of the Museum of the Ancient Near East at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, wrote the foreword.

For more than 20 years trade in looted cultural artefacts has flourished. In the wake of the political turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa there has been an unprecedented increase in the plundering of ancient cultural sites. And in a concurrent development, cultural heritage has become an increasingly sought-after form of investment since the financial crisis of 2008. In terms of revenue, the black market in antiquities is only outstripped by that in drugs and illegal arms. In researching the book, author Günther Wessel has delved into this 'discrete market’, travelled to the major affected sites, interviewed dealers, collectors, investigators, archaeologists, former insiders, and politicians, followed the tracks of stolen artefacts across several countries, and has now delivered a startling report on a global illicit trade in this new book. Dealers frequently conceal or falsify the provenance of objects, take advantage of legal loopholes and the failure of authorities to intervene, while collectors claim their acquisitions were made 'in good faith’, and even major museums like the Getty have been known to be involved in dubious purchases. Auction houses make 31 billion euros each year, and some of their sales are tinged with blood. Most recently, numerous cases have come to light in which terrorist groups such as ISIS have financed their organizations through stolen cultural property.

The plundering of heritage sites means that the objects are stripped of their historical contexts and history is irrevocably destroyed. The author also demonstrates that Germany is by no means exempt from dealings in illicit excavations. More research is desperately needed as official figures relating to the illicit trade barely scratch the surface. A UNESCO agreement on the protection of cultural heritage has been in place since 1970. Germany only signed up to it in 2007 and will now hopefully amend the relevant laws. This bombshell of a book combines detailed analysis on developments in archaeology and recent scandals in the global art market, as well as the latest facts and figures on artefact trafficking and the actors involved.

Günther Wessel: Das schmutzige Geschäft mit der Antike: Der globale Handel mit illegalen Kulturgütern
In German, with a preface by Markus Hilgert, director of the Vorderasiatisches Museum (Museum of the Ancient Near East, Berlin) and an afterword by Friederike Fless, president of the German Archaeological Institute.
184 pages, paperback ISBN 978-3-86153-841-7, retail price: 18 euros.