Precious Indonesian Artifacts Being Looted by Treasure Hunters

Precious Indonesian artifacts in the paddy fields of Sukoharjo district, Central Java, are being dug up by illegal treasure hunters who then sell the items on the black market, conservationists report.

A particular site in Joho village in Sukoharjo has become a magnet to looters after local officials declared it a conservation zone three years ago following the discovery of an ancient Buddhist temple nearby. According to locals, the treasure hunters would offer Rp.3 million a day to unsuspecting local farmers for the right to dig for buried treasures at night.

For farmers, who would typically make nothing off their paddies during the dry season, the money is hard to turn down. For the looters, it is small pittance compared to the value of discovered artifacts. “We haven’t calculated it, but if this has been happening since the 1990s, then we have lost so much money,” said Darno, the head of the local culture and heritage foundation, as quoted by V ICE . “The government doesn’t seem to realize the potential of historical sites.”

These historical artifacts are then sold into a black market, which according to think-tank Global Financial Integrity, is worth US$1.6 billion annually worldwide. Rosinta Hutauruk, the spokesperson for UNESCO’s Indonesia, said only 10 percent of the antiquities are recovered by authorities.

“The illicit trade in cultural objects continues to increase because there’s stable demand,” she said. “This is also due to inconsistent law and weak border policies.”

Missing cultural artifacts is common in Indonesia. As many as 55 sculptures dating back to 400 BC found in Cirebon, West Java, are reported to have gone missing since the 1960s. Even artifacts in secured museums have gone missing, with almost 9,000 priceless artifacts reported to have disappeared from Indonesian museums by 2010.

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