Green Saharas, Grey Markets: Commercial Exploitation of North African Prehistory, an Overview

Keywords: Archaeology, Sahara, Neolithic, artefacts, archaeological looting, antiquities trade


The collection-driven destruction of the archaeological record by artefact hunters not only threatens to obliterate part of the world’s cultural heritage, but also profoundly affects our ability to understand the human past of the region. This text takes a preliminary look at the material and archaeological consequences of a little-known aspect of the antiquities market, the gathering of surface finds to fuel the online collectors’ market in ancient lithic tools. It attempts to characterise the dynamics and effects of this commerce on the basis of a survey of the internet trade in Stone Age artefacts from North Africa and how they reach and are spread in the market countries. It demonstrates that the effects of these activities are having a devastating effect on parts of the archaeological record of the source countries.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Paul M. Barford, Independent Researcher


Atwood, R. 2004. Stealing history: tomb raiders, smugglers, and the looting of the ancient world. New York.

Bar-Yosef, D. 2013. Towards a typology of stone beads in the Neolithic Levant. Journal of Field Archaeology 38(2): 129–142.

Barker, A. 2018. Looting, the antiquities trade, and competing valuations of the past. Annual Review of Anthropology 47: 455–474.

Bednarik, R.G. 2011. About ostrich eggshell beads. The Bead Forum 59: 2–8 (accessible online:

Berner, J. 2002. American Indian artifacts: genuine or reproduction? Roswell.

Brodie, N. 1998. Pity the poor middlemen. Culture Without Context 3: 7–9.

Brodie, N. and Renfrew, C. 2005. Looting and the world's archaeological heritage: the inadequate response. Annual Review of Anthropology 34: 343–361.

Brodie, N. 2015. The internet market in antiquities. In F. Desmarais (ed.), Countering Illicit Traffic in cultural goods: the global challenge of protecting the World’s Heritage, 11–20. Paris.

Brodie, N. 2017. Virtually gone! The internet market in antiquities. In Proceedings of the 6th International Conference of Experts on the Return of Cultural Property; Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation: Seoul, Korea, 2017, 190–204. Seoul.

Brodie, N. and Tubb, K.W. 2002. Illicit antiquities: the theft of culture and the extinction of archaeology. London.

Brooks, N. 2013. Beyond collapse: climate change and causality during the Middle Holocene Climatic Transition, 6400–5000 years before present. Geografisk Tidsskrift – Danish Journal of Geography 112(2): 93–104

Bruhns, K. 2000. Society for American Archaeology Bulletin 18(2):14–15.

Chippindale, C. and Gill, D. 2001. On-line auctions: a new venue for the antiquities market. Culture Without Context 9: 4–12.

Corbey, R. 2000. Tribal art traffic a chronicle of taste, trade and desire in Colonial and Post-colonial Times. Amsterdam.

Deckers, P., Dobat, A., Ferguson, N., Heeren, S., Lewis, M. and Thomas, S. 2018. The Complexities of metal detecting policy and practice: a response to Samuel Hardy. Open Archaeology 4(1). Electronic document:

Di Lernia, S. 2005. Incoming tourism, outgoing culture: tourism, development and cultural heritage in the Libyan Sahara. Journal of North African Studies 10(3–4): 441–457.

Ede, C. 1976. Collecting Antiquities an Introductory Guide. London.

Fay, E. 2011. Virtual artifacts: eBay, antiquities, and authenticity. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 27: 449–464.

Fay, E. 2013. Trading in antiquities on eBay: the changing face of the illicit trade in antiquities. PhD Thesis, Keele University October 2013. Electronic document:

Francis, P. 1994. Beads of the world: a collector's guide with price reference. Atglen.

Garve, R., Garve, M., Türp, J.C. and Meyer, C.G. 2017. Labrets in Africa and Amazonia: medical implications and cultural determinants. Tropical Medicine and International Health 22(2): 232–240.

Gilmer, M. [2009]. About NWA meteorites. Galactic stone and ironworks. Webpage

Graburn, N.H.H. 1977. Ethnic and tourist arts: cultural expressions from the Fourth World. Berkeley.

Greenwell, D. 2005. Flint artifacts of North Africa. Self published [no place given].

Hardy, S. A. 2017. Curbing the spoils of war. UNESCO Courier 2017–3: 12–16.

Harsch, E. 2006. Combating inequality in Africa. Africa Renewal 20(2): 16–21.

Hothem, L. 1992. Fake chipped artifacts: some considerations. Lancaster–Ohio

Hugot, H-J. 1991. Essai sur les armatures de pointes de flèches du Sahara. Calvisson.

Jury, L. 2005. Art market scandal: British Museum expert highlights growing problem of fake antiquities. Independent 24 May 2005. Available online:

Keats, J. 2014. Playing the meteorite market. Discover magazine, June 2014: 34. Available online:

Keenan, J. 2003. Tourism, development and conservation: a Saharan perspective. In D.J. Mattingly, S. McLaren, E. Savage, Y. al-Fasatwi, and K. Gadgood (eds), Natural resources and cultural heritage of the Libyan Desert: proceedings of a conference held in Libya. 14–21 December 2002, 14–21. London. Also:

Keenan, J. 2005. Looting the Sahara: The material, intellectual and social implications of the destruction of cultural heritage (briefing). Journal of North African Studies 10(3–4): 471–489.

Keenan, J. 2013. The material, intellectual and social implications of the destruction of cultural heritage (Briefing). In J. Keenan (ed.), The Sahara: past, present and future, 214–32. Abingdon.

Klenker, E.K., Dreikluft, R., Milburn, M. and Jiang, Z. 2016. Sahara: material culture of early communities: prehistoric artifacts. Self published [no place given].

Krishnan, N., Ibarra, G.L., Narayan, A., Tiwari, S. and Vishwanath, T 2016. Uneven odds, unequal outcomes: inequality of opportunity in the Middle East and North Africa. Washington, D.C., World Bank Group Report. Electronic document:

Lehr, D. 2019. Art and antiquities: conduits for money laundering and terrorist financing. AML Challenges, Dec 2018–Feb 2019 (Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists). Available online:

Lever, M. 2016. A damaged past: the effects of historical artefact collecting on the stone artefact record. Victoria Excavations, Surveys and Heritage Management in Victoria 5: 47–50.

Lhote, H. 1958. A la Découverte des Fresques du Tassili. Paris.

Lidington, H. 2002. The role of the Internet in removing the ‘shackles of the saleroom’: anytime, anyplace, anything, anywhere. Public Archaeology 2: 67–84.

Mackenzie, S. and Yates, D. 2016. What is grey about the “grey market” in antiquities. In J. Beckert and M. Dewey (eds), The architecture of illegal markets: towards an economic sociology of illegality in the economy, 70–86. Oxford.

McIntosh, R.J., Togola, T. and McIntosh, S.K. 1995. The Good Collector and the premise of Mutual respect Among Nations. African Arts 28: 60–69.

Sawaged, T. 1999. The Collecting Culture: an exploration of the collector mentality and archaeology's response. Nebraska Anthropologist 121: 80–88.

Simak, E., Dreibelbis, C., Liechty,J., Donato, M. and Dubin, L. S. 2010. African beads: Jewels of a continent. Denver.

Stanish, C. 2009. Forging ahead. Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love eBay. Archaeology 62(3): 58–60.

Stevenson, A. 2016. Conflict antiquities and conflicted antiquities: addressing commercial sales of legally excavated artefacts. Antiquity 90(349): 229–236.

Tokely, J. 2006. Rescuing the Past: The cultural heritage crusade. Exeter–Charlottesville.

UNESCO 1970. Convention on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, Export and transfer of ownership of cultural property. Paris.

van Ham, T., Leukfeldt, R., Bremmers, B., Stol, W. and van Wijk, A. 2011. The art of the Internet: a study of illegal online trading in cultural goods. The Hague.

Vernet, R. and Le Quellec, J-L. 2017. Recension de: Eckhard Klenkler, Robert Dreikluft, Mark Milburn and Z. Jiang 2016. Sahara. Material culture of early communities. Les Cahiers de l’ l'Association des Amis de l'Art Rupestre Saharien 19: 295–297.

Vitelli, K.D. 2000. E-commerce in antiquities. Society for American Archaeology Bulletin 18(4): 4–5.

Whittaker, J. C. and Stafford, M. 1999. Replicas, fakes, and art: the twentieth century Stone Age and its effects on archaeology. American Antiquity 64(2): 203–214.

Wright, D. K. 2017. Humans as agents in the termination of the African Humid Period Front. Earth Science 5: 1–14.

Zerboni, A., Salvatori, S., Vignola, P. and Mohammed, A.A. 2018. The long-distance exchange of amazonite and increasing social complexity in the Sudanese Neolithic. Antiquity 92(365): 1195–1209.

How to Cite
Paul M. Barford. (2020). Green Saharas, Grey Markets: Commercial Exploitation of North African Prehistory, an Overview. Archaeologia Polona, 58, 311 -.