Our Work

The MANTIS project is a multidisciplinary study of archaeological looting in Iraq and Syria. We use data from excavation reports, sales records, and satellite images to undertake rigorous investigations of patterns of looting, trafficking, and cultural violence. A core belief of the MANTIS research team is that findings should be subject to peer review prior to public dissemination. We share our methods, data structure, and hypothesis testing at conferences and workshops [insert clickable link to Research Output]. 

Our research covers two key areas:

Market Dynamics

What types of artifacts are appearing on the market, and why are small finds so prevalent? These are important questions for understanding market dynamics, or patterns of behavior by vendors and consumers. We use data from internet auction sites, focusing specifically on cylinder seals and coins presumed to come from Syria and Iraq, to highlight that, although large ticket items offered by sale by large auction houses, such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s attract the most attention, small, inexpensive objects that are within the reach of buyers who wish to spend more modestly, contribute greatly to the looting and illegal trafficking of antiquities out the Middle East.

Market Modeling

Our unique analytical point is a dataset consisting of archaeological and economic data. First, the archaeological data includes detailed observations of objects excavated at a representative sample of sites spanning the Early Bronze Age to the Islamic Period. In tandem, we gather data from observable market activity, separating categories of artifacts collected from auction catalogues and public gallery data. Combining these data sets, we match excavated objects with the same object categories sold on the market. Using a statistical technique called imputation, we then generate a range of reasonable prices for objects that may have come directly from the ground. With this range, we estimate unexcavated objects' potential value on the visible market. The graphic below provides a conceptual overview of our empirical method.

MANTIS Methodology