Journalist was honored for his book Stealing History.

Roger Atwood is an arts journalist and author, Contributing Editor at Archaeology magazine and a correspondent and critic for ARTnews. His work has also appeared in Scientific American, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and The Guardian. He has lectured at universities and academic conferences in Venezuela, Turkey, Peru, Canada, and throughout the United States and has received numerous fellowships, including an Alicia Patterson fellowship and a Knight International Press fellowship. He holds a B.A. in History from the University of Massachusetts and Masters in International Public Policy from Johns Hopkins University. He is now a Visiting Researcher at Georgetown University.

Stealing History by Roger Atwood

Photo: Jane Evelyn Atwood

Stealing History marks the first popular book in the United States about the illicit antiquities trade published in more than three decades. Mr. Atwood’s breadth of knowledge about the illegal artifacts trade and the plunder of archaeological sites, his keen insight and pitch-perfect prose geared for the non-specialist reader provided the spark and motivation for those who have rallied to protest destructive collecting practices and preserve our shared cultural heritage. Using a notable case in Peru to highlight the causes and effects of the illicit antiquities trade, he follows a group of pre-Columbian artifacts from grave digger to smuggler to FBI agent. This excerpt captures the gravity of the situation:

Aldo [a collector] believed that certain ancient Peruvian cultures, Chancay for example, were essentially finished. There were no more sites left to excavate, looters had rifled through the last of them, and many more coastal civilizations, including the Moche, were headed in the same direction. That was a familiar bleat from archaeologists, but it surprised me to hear it from a man like Aldo who had a businessman’s dispassionate sensibility and a deep, genuine knowledge of the market’s supply side.

“I would say that eighty to ninety percent of the total is now outside Peru.”

“You mean, eighty to ninety percent of what is currently on the market?” I asked.

“ No, no. Ninety percent of all valuable, pre-Columbian Peruvian art ever created.” Ninety percent of everything. “You can go for two or three years now without seeing anything new that’s top-quality. That is because no more than ten percent still remains in the ground. All over the country, it’s all running out.”

Looting on this scale results in nothing less than the erasure of the historical record, destroying any chance that a site and the culture that created it can be documented and understood by future generations. Stealing History is a beacon whereby Roger Atwood announces how we must combat archaeological plunder before our history is stolen.


With freshly-signed copies of The Medici Conspiracy from the Peter Watson lecture under their arms, SAFE supporters filled Alan Sokol and Marina Papa-Sokal’s West Village penthouse apartment for our first Beacon Awards Gala. Gathering for a glass of wine and stimulating conversation with old friends and a scrumptious buffet dinner prepared by chef Stephen Javaras, SAFE President Cindy Ho presented Beacon Awards to:

Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini for “The Medici Conspiracy“: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities—From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums” (2006)

Matthew Bogdanos for “Thieves of Baghdad”: One Marine’s Passion for Ancient Civilizations and the Journey to Recover the World’s Greatest Stolen Treasures” (2005)

Roger Atwood for “Stealing History”: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World” (2004)

Through the distinctive voice of its author(s), with different geographic emphasis and thematic approach, each book offers the general public insight into the complexities of the international black market trade of antiquities in an unprecedented way. Most importantly, the books recommend measures for curbing the international trade in illicit antiquities and details ethical collecting practices that all institutions and individuals should adopt.

At the Gala, we were treated to a few illuminating remarks by the Award Winners. We were also gratified by our guests’ generous donations, which were matched by SAFE Vice President Rick St. Hilaire, making this an even more successful fundraiser than we’d hoped.

Although the evening’s success owes much to the efforts of our volunteers and the distinguished Beacon winners who were kind enough to attend, to the largest measure of thanks go to the attendees themselves. Your sparkling intellect, charm and generosity made the first Beacon Awards Gala an event to remember. Thanks to everyone involved… we hope to see you at the next SAFE event.

SAFE’s newly established Beacon Awards recognize individuals who enlighten the public about the devastating effects of looting and the illicit antiquities trade.

I had the best time… Fascinating crowd, diplomats and lawyers and writers, and all very friendly…What a lovely success…Really fantastic…Gala guests


Thursday November 16, 2006
Lecture with Peter Watson at the Chelsea Art Museum followed by 
Awards Ceremony with Buffet Dinner

Download souvenir journal here and “like” SAFE Beacon Awards on Facebook.