As I try to cleanup the backlog caused by assorted technical things over the past couple of weeks, I have come across an item I misfiled which I find to be very interesting. The Sunday Herald (February 27, 2009) reports on the ‘sudden’ (for want of a better term) decline in tombaroli. It begins thusly:
ITALIAN POLICE announced on Friday they had recovered a haul of antiquities looted from tombs in the east-central Marche region. The booty, some 1500 objects in all, had been dug up by a team of “tombaroli”, Italy’s tomb raiders, and covered a period stretching from 8th century BC to 5th century AD. Among the most prized items were Hellenistic vases, drinking cups and a bronze statuette of the goddess Minerva.
Some further excerpts:
Pietro Casasanta, a retired tombarolo who lives in the countryside north of Rome, registered the change last week in a disconsolate interview with the Associated Press.
In the past, he worked during the day with a bulldozer, deliberately using the same hours as construction crews to become one of Italy’s most successful plunderers of archaeological treasures.
When he wasn’t in prison, the convicted looter operated for decades in the countryside area outside Rome.
Now, he says, it is becoming more difficult to dig and to sell. “The whole network of merchants has disappeared,” he complained.
“If the American museums are not buying any more it’s obvious that the market will dry up,” said Maria Bonmassar, a spokeswoman for the Italian culture ministry.
She noted that the psychological climate had changed and Italians now prized their artistic heritage. The people of Morgantina in Sicily, for example, have campaigned actively for the return of a headless statue of Venus stolen from their area that is still in the hands of the Getty Museum.
Bonmassar said: “In the past, if people found antiquities while digging the foundations of a house they would try to conceal them. Now, there is an awareness that this is a part of our cultural patrimony.”
Elsewhere in the article comes the claim:
Last year, the carabinieri art squad discovered just 37 illegal digs, a tiny figure compared with the 1000 or so regularly found in the 1990s.
Okay … this was beginning to sound vaguely familiar, so I poked around my archives and found an item we had mentioned from the International Herald Tribune, in which this same tombarolo is saying pretty much the same things; problem is, the article is from 2007. In that same article, we are told of 40 illegal digs being found in 2007. I can’t find anything else about this bust at Marche, so I’m not sure at all how much of the current item is actually new …