A British parliamentarian recently sounded the alarm that Islamist extremists are looting artifacts in Iraq and Syria including early Bronze Age tables with cuneiform writing on an “industrial scale” to fund their terror campaign.
“We live in a time of the most tragic and outrageous assault on our shared heritage that any of us have seen since the end of the Second World War,” Tory MP Robert Jenrick wrote in an article for The Art Newspaper.
He added: “Ancient treasures in Iraq and Syria have become the casualties of continuing warfare and looting.”
Jenrick said that “no one group has done more to put our heritage at risk than Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) who are not only taking lives, but tearing at the fabric of civilization, looting and purposefully destroying the culture and collective memory of millions.”
Jenrick described the illicit sale as “no longer just an issue for people with an interest in the art world or cultural heritage,” because of its role in funding terrorism.
He said ISIS is employing contractors with bulldozers to harvest antiquities on an “industrial scale.”
Almost like archeologists, ISIS is “deploying militants to ensure their control sites and supervise digging; and licensing looting with a formal tithe of around 20%.”
In the United States alone “there has been a 133% increase in imports of Syrian works of art in the past year, some notable works have been discovered by auction houses through their due diligence.”
He also said some stolen items were seen on eBay.
“There are reports works being offered privately in the Gulf at one end of the scale and appearing on eBay at the other.”
But he spoke of a positive attitude by the market, which is not accepting the “vast quantities of the looted materials,” which are being stored by middlemen until “the dust has settled.”
According to the International Council of Museums’ “red list” of Syrian artifacts, items likely to have been looted include early Bronze Age tablets with cuneiform writing, 8,000-year-old terracotta figurines of women “with emphasized sexual features,” and alabaster and bone “eye idols” from about 3,200BC.
The Iraq red list includes clay chariot models from about 4,000 years ago, 4,500-year-old gold bowls from the Royal Cemetery of Ur, and 5,000-year-old “scarlet ware” jars.
Reports of ISIS selling artifacts are not entirely new.
The U.N. cultural agency UNESCO in late 2014 warned that ISIS was selling ancient Iraqi artifacts on the black market to finance its military operations in the region.
In addition to oil sales, extortion, ransom and sex trafficking, selling seized artifacts is one of the means for ISIS to further its funding.
“Overall there hasn’t been a significant uptake in works coming to market so it’s likely that vast quantities of looted materials are being stored by middlemen until ‘the dust has settled,’” Jenrick said.
He added: “That suggests that when these works do come to market, they will do so having passed through many hands, including sophisticated, organized criminals.”SHOW MORE