The Illicit Antiquities Research Centre: afterthoughts and aftermaths

Brodie, N. (2018), ‘The Illicit Antiquities Research Centre: afterthoughts and aftermaths’, in Elizabeth Simpson (ed.), The Adventure of the Illustrious Scholar: Papers Presented to Oscar White Muscarella. Leiden: Brill, 719-733.

Oscar has written long and hard about the involvement of museum curators and university academics with what he calls “bazaar archaeology”: the study of artifacts of uncertain origin and authenticity acquired on the antiquities market. One of the more insidious effects of this engagement, as he has noted, is that those involved can quickly mobilize to protect the bazaar from too close a gaze, either by obstructing direct investigation or by convincing colleagues that there is nothing there to see, that the antiquities market is not a proper object of academic study. The result is that it is easier and more profitable to study what are often looted artifacts than it is to study the looting itself, as Oscar himself can testify. In this contribution, I consider this issue further, and look at how even well-meaning academic archaeologists can and do support the bazaar, with special reference to the work of the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre (iarc), which was established in 1996 to research and raise awareness of the trade in illicit antiquities, and to the reasons for its closure in 2007.