In the first ever empirical study of a statue trafficking network, researchers at the University of Glasgow have unveiled the structure of the chain of criminals required to smuggle antiquities from ancient archaeological sites to museums and collections around the world.
A study by criminologist Simon Mackenzie and lawyer Tess Davis traced the figures involved along the trafficking network, beginning with the theft of the antiquity -in this case from Cambodian temples-and ending in its sale to a legitimate buyer.
They showed there were as little as three to four mediators separating the looters from a legitimate collector.
During the study, carried out by the Trafficking Culture research group in the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, they interviewed people involved in the looting and trafficking, which took place at various archaeological sites in north-west Cambodia.
They explored six major archaeological sites, including Angkor (including the Roulous grouping and Banteay Srei), Banteay Chhmar (including Banteay Torp), Koh Ker, Phnom Banan, Preah Khan of Kompong Svay (the Bakan) and Sambor Prei Kuk.
Their research began with the locals who lived around the temples-some of whom had been involved in the looting themselves-rather than taking the approach of other research which has often begun with antique dealers.
The team interviewed elders and religious leaders, along with ordinary members of the communities, then worked up the chain toward the international cultural property dealers.
The study is funded by the European Research Council and the aim of the wider project is to examine the entire chain from the antiquity theft to its public sale.
The looting would begin with a regional 'broker', who would organised the looting of statues and deliver them to towns with connections where they would then be transported to the Thai border.
A 'receiver' on the Thai side of the border would take delivery of the statues and move them to Bangkok, where they were delivered to an internationally connected dealer.
The dealer, as the connection between illicit and licit trades, would then sell them on to collectors around the world.
Professor Simon Mackenzie said: "This is an important study, adding to our very limited knowledge of the early stages of trafficking networks in looted cultural heritage.