Biblical Archaeology Review 34:6, November/December 2008

First Person: A Radical Proposal

Why don’t the archaeologists join the looters?

By Hershel Shanks

“Profits are phenomenal, and looters are running riot,” says Giorgio Gligoris, head of Greece’s police squad set up to combat antiquities trafficking. He’s right! That’s one thing on which all agree, whether it’s the Mayan jungle, Etruscan tombs, Iraq’s cuneiform tablets, Mediterranean coastal waters or sites in the West Bank.

But that’s about as far as agreement goes: Antiquities looting is rampant!

The archaeological establishment’s principal suggestion that will supposedly stop the looting is—well, not to put too fine a point on it—stupid. “Don’t buy looted antiquities” is the strategy. Admittedly, if there were no market for looted antiquities, looting would stop. If the looters could not sell their loot, they would discontinue looting.

But the only effect of this policy is to send the looted objects to buyers who will put the loot in their living rooms instead of in museums—so we, the public, will never see it.

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