In a 2013 survey conducted by Blythe Bowman Proulx of 2,358 field archaeologists:
97.9% said looting exists
89.6% said looting exists in all countries
78.5% personally encountered looting

A GLOBAL CONCERN

Everyday, somewhere in the world, looters are busy destroying archaeological sites and ancient monuments large and small, both famous and undiscovered, in search of marketable artifacts so they can be smuggled and purchased by antiquities dealers, private collectors and museums. Political conflicts and unrest only exacerbate this problem.

The problem is most acute in countries rich in undiscovered cultural treasures but poor in financial resources, but looting is not confined to the developing world. The integrity of archaeological sites in North American and European nations is also under serious threat.

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HOW DO WE RESPOND?

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

Why should a citizen in the United States, for instance, care what happens to an object buried in China, Iraq, or another distant location, thousands of years ago? Amidst political turmoil and tremendous humanitarian needs, why should we worry about culture and antiquities? One answer is that “wars end, and shattered lives, communities and societies must be rebuilt.”

Ancient objects are not just beautiful to look at. Uncovered in their original contexts, properly interpreted, they provide insight into the way our ancestors lived, their societies and their environments. They complete our view of ancient life and enrich our understanding of our own selves on many levels. Among the few survivors of early cultural history, antiquities comprise an essential part of our global cultural heritage.


KNOWLEDGE OF OUR PAST IS A HUMAN RIGHT

Much of ancient history is still undiscovered, unexcavated and undocumented. Looting to feed the illicit antiquities trade destroys information locked in this undiscovered past that belongs to all humanity. The idea that our children might not be able to walk into a museum, examine a relic created by our ancestors and be inspired by it is unthinkable.

SAFE exists to raise awareness about this fundamental right to knowledge so that everyone may share stewardship and responsibility for protecting cultural antiquities no matter where they are found.

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MOVING THESE OBJECTS GOES AGAINST EVERY CULTURAL AND SPIRITUAL BELIEF OF THESE PEOPLE…IT WOULD BE LIKE US STEALING OUR GRANDFATHER’S TOMBSTONE FROM ON TOP OF HIS GRAVE, OR OUR GRANDMOTHER’S ASHES, AND SELLING THEM.

Anthropologist Monica L. Udvardy on what it meant to a Kenyan family when ancestral memorial statues (vigango) were stolen and sold to museums overseas.

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Click on the countries highlighted in red in the map for overviews of the situations there.


References

Atwood, Roger. 2004. Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Brodie, Neil. 2002. “Introduction.” In Illicit Antiquities: The Theft of Culture and the Extinction of Archaeology, edited by N. Brodie and K. Tubb, 1‐22. London: Routledge.
Coggins, Clemency. 1970. “The Maya scandal: how thieves strip sites of past cultures.” Smithsonian October:8-17.
Doelle, William H. 2003. “Back Sight: Quintessential Icons,” Archaeology Southwest 17.4:12.
Mulder, Stephennie. 2014. “The blood antiquities funding ISIL.” Al Jazeera (November 12, 2014).
National Park Service. 1906. American Antiquities Act of 1906, 16 USC 431‐433.
Polk, Kenneth. 2009. “Whither Criminology in the Study of the Traffic in Illicit Antiquities?” In Criminology and Archaeology: Studies in Looted Antiquities, edited by S. Mackenzie and P. Green, 13-26. Portland: Hart.
Proulx, Blythe Bowman. 2013. “Archaeological Site Looting in “Glocal” Perspective: Nature, Scope, and Frequency.” AJA 117:111-125.

Ramos, Maria and David Duganne. 2000. “Exploring Public Perceptions and Attitudes about Archaeology.” Report for the Society for American Archaeology conducted by Harris Interactive Inc.
Roosevelt, Christopher and Christina Luke. 2006. “Looting Lydia: The Destruction of an Archaeological Landscape in Western Turkey.” In Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and the Antiquities Trade, edited by N. Brodie, M. Kersel, C. Luke, and K. Tubb, 173‐87. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
UNESCO, 1970. Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.
Van Allen, Amy. 1995. “Native American Artifact Trade and Cultural Rights,” TED Case Studies 4.2: #216.
Wagner, Dennis. 2006. “Stolen artifacts shatter ancient culture: Looters ravage Indian ruins to sell pottery, heirlooms on black market.” The Arizona Republic (November 12, 2006).
Yohe, Robert M. 2004. “News from California State University, Bakersfield.” CSUBNews (April 5, 2004).