U-M experts can discuss trade of looted antiquities

February 24, 2015


A recent U.N. ban of one of the Islamic State’s main sources of funding includes the trade of looted antiquities from Iraq and Syria.

University of Michigan experts are available to discuss this ongoing issue:

Henry T. Wright, U-M professor of anthropology and curator of Near Eastern archaeology at the U-M Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, has conducted fieldwork for over 50 years in many places around the world, including North America, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Kenya, Madagascar and China. In 2003, he led a team sponsored by the U.S. National Geographic Society to assess damage to ancient sites and key museums in Iraq.

“My most recent field study in Syria was with the British team at the great mound of Tell Brak, the ancient city of Nagar that dominated the rolling plains of northeastern Syria,” he said. “This region appears to be under control of ISIS. We have made efforts to get in touch with colleagues there, alas, to no avail, and based on the examination of Google satellite images, we can tell that the collections storage area has been damaged.

“It is important to note that this part of the world—the Euphrates and Tigris River valleys—holds a record of the earliest development of states and urban economies, which was around 4000 B.C. We were really just beginning to get a better sense of the rapid emergence of these societies when research was halted by political problems after 2011. Evidence that is vital to understanding some of humanity’s great crises and triumphs is likely either damaged or destroyed. The humble potsherds, flint knives and soil samples conserved at Brak and other sites could have been used to evaluate new theories of the last great human transition before the rise of the modern global system.”

Contact: [email protected]. Bio: myumi.ch/LPVz6

Christopher Ratté, professor of classical studies and history of art, and director of the U-M Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, specializes in classical archaeology, specifically that of western Turkey. His research focuses on the role played by the built environment, from individual monuments to regional settlement patterns, in the articulation of social and cultural identity.

“Ultimately, the objects found in this way can be bought by collectors around the world, including in the U.S.,” he said. “About 20 years ago, a colleague of mine saw a marble head that had been looted from a site we were working at the year before for sale in a gallery on Madison Avenue in New York. He reported it to the FBI, and it was repatriated, but that was surely the exception rather than the rule.

“Over the last decade, a number of highly publicized prosecutions of antiquities dealers in the U.S. have done a lot to combat the antiquities trade, but it is still a problem and a great loss to science, since much of the significance of an object lies in the context in which it is found, not to mention the permanent damage done to archaeological sites by unscrupulous looters.”

Contact: 734-936-2445, [email protected]. Bio: myumi.ch/LBVjL


More information: Note: See U.N. announcement targeting sources for funding ISIS at myumi.ch/LRqQa.