The recent publicity given to Asian antiquities held by the Australian National Gallery and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which are alleged to have been stolen from India, are only a small part of a much wider issue that has received international attention recently.
Some major museums in the US have now returned or agreed to return objects identified as having been stolen from Cambodia, while others are still reluctant to do so. A partial summary of the current situation is provided on the Chasing Aphrodite website, which was actively involved in the Australian cases.
Against this background, a recently posted article from the British Journal of Criminology provides a fascinating and disturbing account of how antiquity theft from Cambodia has operated over the past several decades.
The article makes clear the extent to which Cambodia's unsettled history since the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge in 1979 has aided the criminal groups which have exploited both the political circumstances of the country and the often desperate poverty of villagers living near important cultural sites. At the same time, the readiness of foreign collectors to disregard issues of provenance has meant that there has been a ready market for stolen antiquities, particularly in Bangkok.
Photo by Flickr user Tim Moffatt.