Ruined ruins “Save our stones” (June 13th) underplayed how important the funding that Islamic State gets from looting archaeological sites is to its operations. In fact, income from stealing antiquities is the only major income source for IS that is rapidly increasing, not just as a percentage of overall funding but in real terms. We conservatively estimate that such funding increased from tens of millions of dollars last year to more than $100m this year.
As many as 60% of the biggest smugglers in looted antiquity may be based in or linked to London. If the reality is anywhere close to this the legitimate auction house examples you mentioned are just the ripple on the surface of very murky water. Britain is the world’s second largest art market. Countering IS funding would require diverting resources given that the Metropolitan Police Art and Antiquities Team is understaffed.
To boost supporting action with legislation, Britain could finally ratify the 1954 Hague Convention on protecting cultural property during wartime, rather than continuously holding off until “as soon as parliamentary time should allow”. It is frequently argued that concerns over antiquities held by British museums present a stumbling block to ratification, but the convention’s main focus is on protecting sites in the event of conflict.
Strategy and Security Institute
University of Exeter