Tales of the Looted

With a new podcast, Associate Professor of Classics Zoë Kontes examines the stories behind illicit antiquities.

Zoë Kontes

Kenyon students searching for podcasts on iTunes this fall might find themselves stumbling upon a familiar name — especially if they are interested in illicit antiquities and archaeology.

Zoë Kontes, associate professor of classics, spent the fall semester last year researching illicit antiquities as a Whiting Public Engagement Fellow. Her goal with this fellowship, which granted a total of $50,000 to both Kontes and Kenyon over a six-month period, was to publish her research in a podcast form in order to make it more accessible to the general public.

During the fellowship, Kontes was based in Philadelphia as a consulting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. She also had the opportunity to visit the antiquities collections of museums across the U.S., such as New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Seattle Art Museum and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Further afield, Kontes traveled to Japan, Greece, Italy and France in order to spend time with some of the displaced objects she features in her podcast, “Looted.”

The first season of “Looted” consists of six episodes airing from late October to January. In each installment, Kontes recounts stories of specific artifacts to illustrate the different ways that looting occurs, the many types of artifacts that are stolen, and the implications of broader issues such as repatriation, forgery and the damage that can be inflicted on cultural objects in times of war.

“I choose a variety of types of objects from different contexts, such as graves and shipwrecks,” Kontes said. “I also choose objects that demonstrate the many facets of the illicit trade — how international law applies or doesn't, the vast quantity of money being made on stolen artifacts, how looting affects local populations, the making of forgeries, how science is used to determine fakes but also make them, how ownership is defined by nations and what happens in times of conflict.”

“With every episode I hope to show how difficult these issues can be, and to get the listener to think about what the best course of action might be in each case,” Kontes added.

Kontes is no stranger to the microphone. She has participated in radio for more than a decade and is a longtime DJ on Kenyon’s station, WKCO, hosting the popular indie rock show “Dalliance.” With her podcast, she is reaching a global audience; in its first week, “Looted” was downloaded in 36 states and 40 countries spread across six continents.

Professor of Classics Adam Serfass believes this podcast is a great opportunity for Kontes to tell stories about objects with powerful histories. “The illicit antiquities trade generates fascinating stories that raise thorny ethical questions. Don’t just take my word for it: Listen to the first episode of ‘Looted,’ about a priceless gold wreath smuggled across international borders in a hollowed-out watermelon and later bought by a world-class museum,” Serfass said.

“Professor Kontes is a gifted teacher,” Serfass added. “She has a knack for engaging students from different backgrounds and with different interests, which should help her podcast reach the broad audience it deserves.”

To listen to Kontes’s podcast, visit www.lootedpodcast.org.

India Amos ’17 contributed to this story.