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Lectures from the Allen Room and the Wertheim Study: Not a Video Game Anymore : Tomb Raiders and their Contested Relationship with Organized Crime in Contemporary Italy


October 31, 2013

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Nicknames like “the magician” or “the Etruscan” do not belong to common criminals that police officers encounter in cities around the world these days.  Instead, they belong to tomb raiders who operate in the vast fields along Italy. Their jobs : to scout the terrain in search of centuries old unopened tombs that might reveal a once in a lifetime archaeological finding. And the bad news is they often succeed in their endeavors. 
Unfortunately, it is not common to find a criminological approach to modern day tomb raiding, although, paradoxically, many countries recognize illicit diggings as a crime and there are international treaties that condemn them. Italy is one of many source countries where the tomb raiding phenomenon has plagued its vast archaeological heritage.
This presentation focuses on illicit archaeological diggings that have taken place in the last five decades in different geographical areas of Italy. It will introduce the audience to this particular crime : mostly, how it is done and how it has changed over time and space, using data sources such as police records, journalistic accounts, statements from tomb raiders and personal photographs of pillaged sites, among others.
Because these activities are conducted by groups of looters (‘tombaroli’), a contested issue relates to the linkage of tomb raiding with organized crime. This particular issue is complicated provided the lack of consensus when defining what organized crime is, and an extra layer of difficulty is added when factoring the obscurity surrounding tomb raiding. The presentation will also explore the conflicting views surrounding this issue and address the difficulty in reaching a consensus.
Marc Balcells, MA, a writer in residence in the Library’s Wertheim Study, is a Spanish criminologist, holding degrees in Law, Criminology and Human Sciences, and masters both in Criminal Law, and in Art Crimes and Cultural Heritage Protection. A Fulbright scholar, he is currently completing his PhD in Criminal Justice at The Graduate Center, CUNY. His research revolves around criminological aspects of archaeological looting, though he has also written about other forms of art crime. He has taught both Criminal Law and Criminology courses as an associate at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (Spain) and is a Graduate Teaching Fellow in the Political Science department at John Jay College. Mr. Balcells is involved with the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) in a number of different roles. He is also a criminal defense attorney whose practice is located in Barcelona.