In 2012, we used this space to propose a project we dubbed “WikiLoot.” The idea was simple:
- Build a web platform for the publication and analysis of primary source records and photographs documenting the trade in looted antiquities.
- Use social media and crowdsourcing to engage a broad, international network of contributors — experts, curators, journalists, investigators, academics and curious citizens — in the input and analysis of that material.
- With these tools, develop an authoritative database that can further the public’s and art market’s understanding of the illicit antiquities trade.
Over the past two years, we’ve been hard at work building that vision. We will reveal the result in the coming months, complete with a new name:
Antiquarium is an antiquities trade intelligence database.
We’re working with a global network of experts and volunteers to gather data on the trade in ancient art, mapping the pathways that objects take through the market.
In the art world, this is called provenance research. But our approach is a bit different than traditional provenance research.
We’re using crowdsourcing, data mining and other digital tools to collect and analyze data on the market in ancient art. Antiquarium has been designed as a collaborative research platform, an approach that builds on the success of crowdsourcing projects like those run by the Citizen Science Alliance.
Antiquarium’s initial dataset includes 122,000 looted antiquities that have been returned to their country of origin since 1950. For each, we’re gathering details on that path they took to market.
Those cases show that risk has grown significantly in the antiquities trade in recent years: false ownership histories, seizures by law enforcement, claims by foreign governments and forgery are all on the rise.
Of the repatriation cases we’ve studied so far, more than 80% have occurred in the last decade. In 2014, there have already been 50 returns.
Those 122,000 looted objects are just the start of our work. We are collecting additional data from court records, media reports, dealer archives, museum catalogs, auction records and other sources.
As the database grows, we’ll use network analysis and visualizations to answer other important questions: How big is the illicit antiquities trade? How has it evolved over the years? What are the primary pathways taken by looted and forged objects? How can ethical collectors, museums and dealers avoid the risks associated with the antiquities market?
We’re currently in beta-testing, working with a team of volunteers to refine Antiquarium. In early 2015, we will launch publicly, opening Antiquarium up to a far larger community of contributors.
We rely upon the power of the crowd, and hope you’ll get involved. Our volunteers are students and concerned citizens who help us gather and input data on the trade. Our curators are experts with deep knowledge in a region or topic who help identify data sources and guide the work of volunteers. We also consult regularly with an advisory board of leading experts on the trade.
To learn more or get involved, send us an email with some information about your interests or expertise: GetInvolved@antiquarium.io
Thanks for your support, and see you in 2015!
Jason and Miles
Jason Felch, Founder
Miles Zimmerman, Lead Developer