An auction in the United Kingdom has raised concerns about the sale of artifacts that researchers say resemble the types of items looted from Yemen. After the auction did not specify its original location.
The case sheds light on the market for stolen antiquities, which continued to thrive despite international efforts to curb the sales.
TimeLine auctions kicked off in London on Tuesday through Internet for thousands of Artifacts from around the world. It will run until December three.
In the weeks leading up to the auction, Yemeni antiquities researcher Abdullah Mohsen posted on Facebook that some of the artifacts that will be sold in the auction are similar to artifacts from Yemen, although the researchers do not know the exact source of these pieces. It is unclear whether the auction house knows the exact origin of the items or not.
One piece, a set of gold beads, sold for 715 pounds ($850). A bronze camel statue sold for 975 Egyptian pounds ($1,160). A camel rider statue is also being auctioned, with an estimated value of 400-600 pounds ($480-720).
Middle East Eye has reached out to TimeLine auctions for comment, but has not received a response.
Jeremy Sheetcat, an archeology researcher who focuses on artifacts from Yemen, said he couldn’t confirm whether the pieces were actually stolen, but it is similar to the ones he saw personally and learned that they were looted from areas in Yemen.
“However, this is something I’ve been able to see in private collections,” he told Middle East Eye. Not the same item but similar items in a group looted from Yemen.”
He said the pieces consist mostly of stolen artifacts and “Among them, there were some jewels, similar to those offered for sale in London.”
Chitkat noted that the artifacts on sale this week are unusual compared to the usual types of auction items coming from Yemen.
“This is not the kind we usually see for sale coming from Yemen,” Chikat told MEE. Most modern artifacts are mostly inscriptions on stone or bronze tablets. It is not common to have these artifacts that we can see here.”
He added that one of the main issues when it comes to trying to identify the stolen items, it is that auction houses do not provide the exact provenance of the piece, either in terms of time or place.
“It is very difficult to ascertain the provenance of these objects, which are found in different parts of Yemen. We can find these types of artifacts in different regions. It is very difficult to determine if it comes from a plundered area or any other that not plundered.
History of looted items
Manel Sheibani, legal program director for the Clooney Foundation’s Docket Initiative, said to the Middle East Eye that she was not surprised by these concerns.
In their latest report on stolen antiquities, which found that hundreds of thousands of artifacts have been stolen from war-torn countries in the Middle East in the past decade. Mannell said that TimeLines was not named. However, their names were mentioned in a report regarding trade outside Libya.
In May 2020, the auction house TimeLines participated in the sale of a stolen artifact, this piece is a Sumerian temple painting from about 2400 BC. It was eventually returned to Iraq.
In the same year, The Guardian reported that a statue stolen from the National Museum of Afghanistan had appeared on the auction website in the internet.
Sheibani said there is “this sense of impunity” that auction houses and dealers feel.
Trade in stolen antiquities fuels the conflict
On the level of Yemen, Sheibani indicated that the ongoing war in the country has led to an increase in the smuggling of looted antiquities.
“Basically, you have regular reports of arresting individuals involved in smuggling antiquities out of Yemen,” she said.
“Yemen is a conflict zone, there is an international conflict going on there and there are many armed groups there, and they have contributed in looting antiquities.”
‘Looting is a war crime’
Sheibani said it has been difficult to establish the origin of the current items for sale on TimeLines, because it says it is from a collection of the ’80s, long before the Clooney Foundation’s Docket Initiative tracked sales of stolen items.
“When it comes to Yemen, we did research and we saw that there has been looting going on in Yemen since 2011 and that is fueling the conflict.”
According to the Docket Initiative, approximately 150,000 items have been looted from Yemen. According to UNESCO, the illicit trade in cultural goods — of which the antiquities trade is a part — is worth $10 billion annually. It is known that part of these profits is used to finance global conflicts and terrorism.
Sheibani said her work at the Clooney Foundation focuses on using strategic litigation to stop the stolen goods trade, rather than simply advocating for more regulation.
“That’s why we think going on the side of international crime and litigation is a good deterrent for those dealers, who should realize their role in this.” She said.
“Looting is a war crime, so a trader who operates in different places in London or Paris would probably be deterred if he were to be prosecuted for these kinds of legal grounds.”