25 April 2012

More Crowdsourcing: Track Illicit Antiquities with Wikiloot

Crowdsourcing is going to play a big role in archaeology's future. This month I'm bringing you four projects that use it to harness the enthusiasm of ordinary people to fuel innovative research. 

WikiLoot is a project by Jason Felch, one of the authors of Chasing Aphrodite: the Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum. The idea is to "create an open source web platform, or wiki, for the publication and analysis of a unique archive of primary source records and photographs documenting the illicit trade in looted antiquities." Says Felch:
The inspiration for WikiLoot is the vast amount of documentation seized by European investigators over the past two decades during investigations of the illicit trade in Classical antiquities smuggled (primarily) out of Greece and Italy. The business records, journals, correspondence and photographs seized from looters and middlemen during those investigations comprise a unique record of the black market.
Much of that documentation remains tangled in legal cases that are likely to end inconclusively, like that of former Getty antiquities curator Marion True and dealer Robert Hecht. Despite remarkable investigative work by authorities in Italy and Greece, only the trial of Italian dealer Giacomo Medici reached a verdict.

WikiLoot will make these records and photographs publicly available on the web and will enlist collaborators around the world to tag and analyze them. As with Wikipedia, participants will be given credit for their contributions. Ultimately, we hope to create the world’s most authoritative dataset of a black market whose size and reach is still poorly understood. (Estimates of the illicit antiquities trade range from $200 million a year to $10 billion dollars a year.)
This Polaroid seized from the warehouse of dealer Giacomo Medici shows the Getty Museum's Statue of Apollo shortly after it was looted from a tomb in Southern Italy.
Researchers and the interested public are invited to collaborate to help fight the destruction of archaeological sites for the antiquities trade. They've applied for funding from the Knight News Challenge.

While the project is still in development, the WikiLoot Facebook page has become a nexus for fascinating discussions about collecting, looting and museums. The posts and comment threads are a regular who's who of scholars and journalists researching the antiquities trade, including David Gill, Derek Fincham, Larry Rothfeld, Neil Brodie, Fabio Isman, and others. This is a project worth following - it has the potential to not only be tremendous fun but also an innovative precedent for future research projects.

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