So, week one(… ish)… Luckily, this way of finding things out is almost as simple as it sounds – asking people if they might know something or if they know people who might know something. In such a connected world, assistance and answers come from all over the world.
Within a month, something that had been displayed in a photo but not discussed in an accompanying report (beyond being acknowledged as “books”) became (albeit circumstantial) evidence of terrorist financing from antiquities trafficking.
Last month, when @hasavrat pointed out a text on ancient coins in a cache of Turkish Islamic State fighters’ equipment, which had been seized by Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria (and reported by the Firat News Agency’s Mehmet Nuri Ekinci), I asked if anyone recognised it. Surprisingly, that actually worked.
Suggestions for targeted searches for comparisons, recommendations of people to contact and help in sharing the appeal came from a journalist in France, a spin doctor for a coworking space in France and a high school in Jamaica, as well as archaeologists, historians, cultural heritage professionals and enthusiasts and digital humanities scholars in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
Then archaeologists, historians, antiquities dealers, antiquities collectors and other concerned citizens independently identified words in the text and objects on the page, which not only contributed to shared understanding, but also simultaneously corroborated the findings, all within twenty-four hours, even though collaborators stretched from West Asia to North America.
Having hoped that ‘it might help us to identify which ancient coins the Islamic State is handling (or expecting to handle)’, I judged that the precise but still limited information might only indicate that the books had been considered worth keeping by the fighters for checking by experts.
Then, almost a month to the day after I had posted the appeal and the information that everyone had been able to piece together from the single page on display, numismatist Ute Wartenberg recognised the page and identified the book, which hinted at the (often downplayed or dismissed yet) ‘often erudite knowledge [of] people who are involved in looting ancient sites in the Mediterranean’ and ‘the multifaceted connections between looted antiquities and war in Syria’.
And, after that, one of the editors of the book heard what had happened to it and was able to suggest from where the book itself might have been looted. Such reaching out across professions and continents, and the delays and serendipity that come with it, are the stuff my work is made of. One of the reasons this post came out perilously close to week two was that I was fixing up similarly disparate connections in another investigation. But, somehow, it works.