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An Iraq Court Just Sentenced a British Tourist to 15 Years in Prison for Taking Pottery Shards From an Archaeology Site


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3 minutes ago, kirispupis said:

What I find interesting is that a German tourist was acquitted of the same charges. I suspect there's more to the story that we're not hearing.

I heard an interview with the man's son and he said that the tour was accompanied by an official from the ministry of antiquities and he was the individual who was asked if permission would be granted to take the shards. He said it was OK and the pieces were packed in open view and not hidden as the  arrested man thought, given the site, which was apparently a dumping ground , these items were of no significance and their removal was, in his opinion , authorised by the status of the person he sought permission from.

There is anti British and American resentment in Iraq following the Gulf War and that would have been a deciding factor to win central government "brownie points" by arresting a British citizen. Now I cannot condone in any way what he did and hindsight being the only precise science, he probably thinks it was wrong also and a dumb thing to do as effectively that sentence in the Middle East for someone his age is a death sentence.

I am not too precious about this and feel sorry for him and this is a "casting the first stone" scenario. We are all sitting comfortably in our homes and offices admiring our treasures but how many were looted and in fact we are not blameless ourselves. I put my ownership down to curating for the next thousand years because quite possibly if we didn't have these artefacts they would have been melted down and the history lost for ever. Make no mistake the average provincial museum has little interest in showing thousands of denarii and it has been collectors in many fields that have preserved the history of many artefacts. I cannot honestly say that I have clean hands myself because if I want to bid on the one Fleet Denarius I want, I am not going to question a  provenance stating  "property of an old collector" and demand a forensic timeline for the item. It is great to have good provenance but the majority of my coins have provenance starting with the auction house I bought from.

This is a complex subject with many opinions, none of them probably inherently at fault with logic. Probably the best scheme in the world is the British PAS scheme  that circumnavigates irresponsible looting.

See https://www.britishmuseum.org/our-work/national/treasure-and-portable-antiquities-scheme  In this situation it is not illegal to find something as long as you have permission to be where you find it but it makes it illegal if certain artefacts are not brought into the public domain where their location is recorded and the items properly identified. Market value is then given to the owner of the land and finder if the artefacts are not significant to be exhibited in a museum. If the items are significant the finder is still compensated. My hypothesis is that if the man arrested had paid $100 for a "license" this could have been used by the ministry of antiquities to preserve and police more important artefacts.  No crime, no time and a source of legitimate revenue.

I know there have been several threads in "the other place" on this subject and only mention this in case anyone has not seen them.

So my long winded answer to @kirispupis is yes, there is more than meets the eye here, the arrested person is being used as a political pawn to satisfy  an appetite for revenge for the invasion of their country. It happened to a tourist in Iran accused of spying and that was down to the British Government owing the Iranian Government money. I won't be visiting Iraq or Iran anytime soon for my vacations!

 

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5 minutes ago, Dafydd said:

So my long winded answer to @kirispupis is yes, there is more than meets the eye here, the arrested person is being used as a political pawn to satisfy  an appetite for revenge for the invasion of their country. It happened to a tourist in Iran accused of spying and that was down to the British Government owing the Iranian Government money. I won't be visiting Iraq or Iran anytime soon for my vacations!

 

I don't doubt that the sentence reflected the hostility to the man's nationality, however, as has already been stated "what was he thinking!"

While I haven't been to Iraq or Iran, I have been to sketchy areas. When I visited Uzbekistan they took apart our luggage looking for anything they could pin on us. Luckily, we were aware of the place we were visiting and had nothing. I remember visiting the remnants of a city supposedly destroyed by Alexander the Great. In certain spots you could still see bone pieces protruding from the dirt. I was the only one there at the time and it would have been trivial to take a souvenir, though I might then be languishing in an Uzbek prison and not here writing this.

Another time we were in Botswana and there were some cool looking pebbles on the ground. My wife asked our guide if she could take a couple and he said it was ok. When we later got to the border with South Africa, he reported us for taking the pebbles. The police went through our bags and found them, but luckily they were just shiny pebbles and not diamonds - which would have resulted in a jail sentence. They took the pebbles anyways but were friendly about everything.

So, the moral of the stories - don't touch anything!

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Posted (edited)

I remember coming back from a trip to Europe in 1992, while going through US Customs at JFK, an inspector was examining a Nero sestertius that I purchased from a shop in Besançon, France.  "What is this?" he asked.  "A sestertius" I replied.  He gave me a puzzled look and gave the coin back.  The point is that inspectors are trained to examine items exiting or entering a country and this is something that has obviously been going on for quite some time.

Sure, there are political aspects to the prohibition of removing objects from a county, and there is certainly varying degrees of enforcement, but fundamentally it is risky and wrong to attempt taking anything out, even something like a humble pottery shard.  In far older times this could be done, I am sure, but now, with many countries focusing on laws to protect national history and heritage, slipping an item or two from under the noses of the authorities can have dramatic and substantial consequences for the individual.

I do feel sorry for the retired geologist, but he took a risk and is now paying the price, even if he is released shortly, which is not guaranteed, especially in these times. 

Edited by robinjojo
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Having the local guide or any local authority tell you that it is ok to take the shards just for him to go and report you at the next corner is at least entrapment if not downright framing. This situation is akin to hostage taking, the shards are likely the easiest pretext.

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It's difficult to know what to think, since that article is only one small part of one side of the story...however, just going by the information in the article, it does seem excessively harsh.

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I'm sorry but this guy knew exactly what he was doing....Harsh sentence, yes, but only in relation to western laws.....He was no novice and although the fragments he took seem irrelevant in the state of the world today, he broke the law!  But he actually knew what the law was!?..An odd scenario.........

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2 hours ago, Etcherdude said:

The punishment is certainty harsh but what was the man thinking?

My thoughts as well. Though, old guys do crazy things.

And look at the guy!

He's literally EVERYBODY'S willy old uncle:

image.thumb.jpg.4ee47e7c638f2fe20a8a1afd70ba79dd.jpg

Frankly, when I first saw this I nearly shard my pants:

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I hope he is released soon. He has been made an example of to the entire WORLD. He is an old man. They shouldn't take the rest of his life away to further an obvious point. 

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What I'm also amazed at, and please don't flame me for saying this, is he could've significantly eased his troubles by just slipping the first border guard a "tip".

Again, bringing back some stories from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. We were pulled over four times in those countries, despite the fact that our driver was a local and he was obeying all the traffic laws. Each time he just slipped the officer a "tip" and everyone went on their way. It's just the way things are in some countries.

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I once travelled to an African country and was told to wear a cheap watch because my watch might be "taxed"on entry.

When you have a customs officer with a machine gun saying that your $20 watch has a tax of $200 you simply surrender it.......

As @kirispupis said, things are done differently in some countries. I have had my moments with the TSA on a couple of occasions and wondered which country I was visiting and I broke no laws or acted out of place. 

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The sentence is way put of proportion. !5 years for bits and bobs whilst those who used a pneumatic drill on the lamassu probably made it safely, with Iraqi government help into the desert.

At  Seti's temple rummaging around the outside at Abydos I unearthed a part of the roof with a star on it. My wife made me dig in again! I see genuione artifacts for sale all the time Haven't got a photo of my lekythos yet! 

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That sad region of the world has been beset with so many problems, in addition to war, economic crises (especially Lebanon), dislocations of large swaths of the population (especially Syria), climate deterioration (soaring summer temperatures and mammoth dust storms), and now a food crisis in the form or drastically reduced wheat shipments. 

The region is rich in archeological treasures that I would love to visit, but probably never will.  Sad. 

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