In 2011 a man walked into the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts during regular opening hours and stole a 2500-year-old Persian sculpture of a guard valued at over $1.2 million, and that’s just the start of this strange story. Many of our most respected museums house stolen antiquities. High-end auction houses regularly sell loot. Upstanding citizens engage in this criminal market. Yet unlike with most illegal commodities, such as drugs or arms, trafficked antiquities can be openly bought and sold, and are often put on public display. How is this possible? Who owns the past, anyway? There’s no easy answer to those questions. One thing is certain: cultural heritage is profoundly important to people, and crimes that threaten cultural heritage with destruction cause harm far beyond property loss. Using the Persepolis relief as a case study, this talk will discuss how research from criminology can be used to understand and prevent crime in the art world.
Donna Yates is an Associate Professor of Criminology and Cultural Heritage Law at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. She is a founding member of the Trafficking Culture research consortium (traffickingculture.org) which conducts evidence based research on the illicit trade in stolen and looted antiquities. Her current research project, funded by the European Research Council, is focused on understanding at crime related to cultural objects, collectable wildlife, and fossils.
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