International Journal of Cultural Property

Research Article

The Illicit Antiquities Trade as a Transnational Criminal Network: Characterizing and Anticipating Trafficking of Cultural Heritage

Peter B. Campbell

Archaeology, University of Southampton, Avenue Campus, Highfield, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK. Email:


The illicit antiquities trade is composed of a diverse population of participants that gives the appearance of complexity; however, using the network paradigm, a simple underlying structure is revealed based on specific geographical, economic, political, and cultural rules. This article uses a wide range of source material to chart interactions from source to market using a criminal network approach. Interchangeable participants are connected through single interactions to form loosely based networks. These flexible network structures explain the variability observed within the trade, as well as provide the basis behind ongoing debates about the roles of organized crime, terrorism, and the Internet in antiquities trafficking. Finally, a network understanding of trade's organization allows for anticipation, though not necessarily prediction, of antiquities trafficking and offers the opportunity to develop new strategies for combating the trade.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS  The author would like to thank the editor and the two anonymous reviewers, whose comments greatly improved this article. Sam Hardy was an invaluable sounding board and gave advice throughout the writing process. Gretchen Peters kindly provided advice and contacts about Afghan trafficking. The author would like to thank Jessica Dietzler and Blythe Bowman Proulx for help on an earlier article that discussed some of the ideas in this article, though it ultimately was not published. Lucy Blue, Jesse Ransley, and William Campbell provided valuable feedback on early drafts. Illicit antiquities research is a small but dedicated field and a synthesis such as this would not be possible without the scholarship of individuals like Paul Barford, Neil Brodie, David Chippendale, Ricardo Elia, David Gill, and Simon MacKenzie to name just a few.