#Stop Antiquities Theft: If Israel can do, so can India

Apart from drugs and guns, theft of antiquities is the third most profitable business.

Artifacts at The National Museum in New Delhi. Image source: Wikipedia

To stop the blight of antiquities theft in Israel, Antiquities Authority has made a new rule for the antiquities dealers. The registered dealers need to register their artifacts in a digital database so that theft of antiquities can be avoided in Israel.

The new rule has come into effect from March 28, 2016, but many dealers have pleaded the High Court of Justice to stop the regulation as they fear, many will drop out of the business. But, for other antiquities dealers this is a good way to close the loopholes.

In India, the scenario is different. To counter illicit trading, government can start with, simple things, such as an integrated database of existing and stolen artifacts hardly exist. Providing sufficient information regarding theft cases has been a struggle. For instance, a question was raised in Parliament in 2010 about the number of antiquities stolen; the government provided a list of 13 thefts that occurred between 2007 and 2010. The list did not include that of Subhash Kapoor, an international antiquities dealer currently in prison for his alleged involvement in the theft of 18 idols from Tamil Nadu. The number of thefts reported also appears too few to be true, reported The Hindu.

The rule started in Israel is quite organized as it legally binds the antiquities dealers so that any sort of crimes can be avoided. The dealer must photograph, register and detail all items in their storerooms and upload them to the IAA’s network. All purchases and sales done are to be placed through the registry for approval by the IAA. Once these procedures are taken care of, an object is digitally transferred from a dealer’s inventory to the buyer’s. As a result, black marketing of antiquities can be countered and checked from time to time.

Related article: Bronze Age gold workers in Ireland made artifacts from imported material, says a study

Head of the IAA’s Robbery Prevention Division, Amir Ganor said, there were 57 licensed antiquities dealers who registered their inventories to the system in the end of 2015. 15 other dealers have started early 2016 but there are quite a few who refused to abide by the rule.

Looted art. Image source: Wikipedia
Looted art (Nazi storage of looted objects). Image source: Wikipedia

The problem is “Looters illegally excavated items, which enter well-organized networks of trade allowing them to be laundered along the way, only to be sold to unsuspecting tourists and collectors with a clean bill of sale in a state-sanctioned shop,” he said.

“I don’t think they’ll stop their operations, but we’ll work to carry out enforcement operations against them,” Ganor added firmly.

In March, the IAA called on Israelis to volunteer a few hours a month to help protect Israel’s 30,000 archaeological sites from looters and vandals. In the month and a half since the initiative was made public, over 180 people have registered, Ganor said. “If we can manage to harness the public to be our eyes in the field, we could better protect antiquities sites,” he added.

On the other hand, the poor documentation and research of existing and stolen artifacts, outdated laws, and incompetent investigative agencies are responsible for deplorable India’s past in preserving its antiquities.

The international black market for antiquities has drawn worldwide attention in recent years, in part because the Islamic State finances some of its operations by selling plundered artifacts from Iraq and Syria.

Apart from drugs and guns, theft of antiquities is the third most profitable business. Germany is interested in adopting a system similar to the IAA’s as part of a broader international effort to quash illegal antiquities sales. Only time will tell whether the archaeologically rich India can do the same and counter illicit trading. (inputs from timesofisrael.com)