Biblical Archaeology Review 37:4, July/August 2011

Strata: How Many?

What percentage of the Hebrew seals listed in the comprehensive Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals was professionally excavated by archaeologists?

Answer: 6.5 percent

Of the 399 Hebrew seals listed in the catalog,1 26 (or 6.5 percent) were professionally excavated. The remainder were acquired on the antiquities market. Since the publication of the catalog, the percentage of professionally excavated seals has risen to 7.25 percent.2

In short, over 90 percent were looted. The figure for ancient coins is roughly the same. So is the percentage of looted Dead Sea Scrolls.

Everyone agrees that looting of archaeological sites, especially of tombs, is a scourge. The question is what to do about it.

Little attention has been given to how this scourge can be reduced, if not eliminated. Involving the community near the sites seems to be the best way. Almost no consideration has been given to how archaeological sites can be protected electronically. More vigorous prosecution of looters who are caught is another element.

The remaining problem is what to do with the looted objects. The major professional archaeology associations (the American Schools of Oriental Research, the Archaeological Institute of America and, more recently, the Israel Exploration Society) have taken what they consider to be the moral high road. They will not look at looted objects; that is, they will not allow them to be published in their scholarly journals, although, once published elsewhere, they can be referred to in their publications.

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