Antiquities trade

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The antiquities trade is the exchange of antiquities and archaeological artifacts from around the world. This trade may be illicit or completely legal. The legal antiquities trade abides by national regulations, allowing for extraction of artifacts for scientific study whilst maintaining archaeological and anthropological context.[1][2][clarification needed] The illicit antiquities trade involves non-scientific extraction that ignores the archaeological and anthropological context from the artifacts.

Legal trade[edit]

The legal trade in antiquities abide by the laws of the countries in which the artifacts originate. These laws establish how the antiquities may be extracted from the ground and the legal process in which artifacts may leave the country. In many countries excavations and exports were prohibited without official licenses already in the 19th century, as for example in the Ottoman Empire. According to the laws of the countries of origin, there can't be a legal trade with archaeological artifact without official papers. However, most national laws still overturn these regulations.

Illicit trade[edit]

Illicit or illegal antiquities are those found in illegal or unregulated excavations, and traded covertly.[3] The black market trade of illicit antiquities is supplied by looting and art theft. Artifacts are often those that have been discovered and unearthed at archeological digs and then transported internationally through a middleman to often unsuspecting collectors, museums, antique dealers, and auction houses.[4] The antiquities trade is much more careful in recent years about establishing the provenance of cultural artifacts.[5][6] Some estimates put annual turnover in billions of US dollars.

It is believed by many archaeologists and cultural heritage lawyers that the demand created by circulation, marketing, and collectorship of ancient artifacts causes the continuous looting and destruction of archaeological sites around the world.[7][8] Archaeological artifacts are internationally protected by the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and international trade in cultural property of dubious provenance is restricted by the UNESCO Convention (1970) on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. After years of resistance, the United States played a major role in drafting and promoting the 1970 Convention.

Examples of looting of archaeological sites for the black market:


Recent trends reveal a large push to repatriate artifacts illicitly extracted and traded on the international market. Such artifacts include those held by museums like the Getty Museum[10] and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.[11] In order to solve the phenomenon of looting, aerial surveillance - the effectiveness of which depends on the capability to perform systematic prospections - is increasingly being used. Nevertheless, it is impractical in several countries due to military activity, political restrictions, and/or huge areas and difficult environmental settings (desert, rain forest, etc..). In these contexts, space technology could offer a suitable chance as in the case of Peru. In this country an Italian scientific mission directed by Nicola Masini,[12] since 2008 have been using very high resolution satellite data to observe and monitor the phenomeno of huaqueros (archaeological looting) in some archaeological areas in Southern and Northern Peru.[13][14] The U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report describing some of the United States’ cultural property protection efforts.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Handbook of national regulations concerning the export of cultural property". Retrieved 2020-02-25.
  2. ^ "FAQ – International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art". Retrieved 2020-02-25.
  3. ^ Illicit Antiquities, Trafficking Culture Encyclopedia.
  4. ^ Amineddoleh, Leila (2013-10-01). "The Role of Museums in the Trade of Black Market Cultural Heritage Property". Rochester, NY. SSRN 2370699. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ Archaeological Institute of America
  6. ^ BBC
  7. ^ "Islamic State Antiquities Trade Stretches To Europe, United States". International Business Times. 2014-11-17. Retrieved 2017-12-28.
  8. ^ See Brodie, Neil; Renfrew, Colin (2005). "Looting and the world's archaeological heritage: the inadequate response". Annual Review of Anthropology. 34: 343–61. doi:10.1146/annurev.anthro.34.081804.120551.
  9. ^ Alva, W., 2001. The destruction, looting and traffic of the archaeological heritage of Peru, in Brodie, N.J., Doole, J., Renfrew, C. (eds). 2001. Trade in illicit antiquities: the destruction of the world’s archaeological heritage. Cambridge: McDonald Institute, pp. 89-96
  10. ^ See e.g. J Paul Getty Museum Returns to Italy 1999, J Paul Getty Museum Returns to Italy (2005), and J. Paul Getty Museum Returns to Italy (2007), Trafficking Culture Encyclopedia.
  11. ^ See e.g. Euphronios (Sarpedon) Krater, Trafficking Culture Encyclopedia.
  12. ^ Cabitza, Mattia (2011-12-15). "Protecting Peru's ancient past". BBC News. Retrieved 2017-12-28.
  13. ^ Lasaponara R., Masini N. R. 2010, Facing the archaeological looting in Peru by local spatial autocorrelation statistics of Very high resolution satellite imagery, Proceedings of ICSSA, The 2010 International Conference on Computational Science and its Application (Fukuoka-Japan, March 23 – 26, 2010), Springer, Berlin, pp. 261-269;
  14. ^ Lasaponara, R.; Leucci, G.; Masini, N.; Persico, R. (2014). "Investigating archaeological looting using satellite images and georadar: the experience in Lambayeque in North Peru". Journal of Archaeological Science. 42: 216–230. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2013.10.032.
  15. ^ "Cultural Property: Protection of Iraqi and Syrian Antiquities".

Further reading[edit]

  • Brodie, Neil, ed. 2006. Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and the Antiquities Trade. Gainesville: Univ. Press of Florida.
  • Diaz-Andreu, Margarita. 2007. A World History of Nineteenth-Century Archaeology: Nationalism, Colonialism, and the Past. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
  • La Follette, Laetitia, ed. 2013. Negotiating culture: Heritage, Ownership, and Intellectual Property. Boston: Univ. of Massachusetts Press.
  • Kila, Joris D., and James A. Zeidler, eds. 2013. Cultural Heritage in the Crosshairs: Protecting Cultural Property during Conflict. Boston: E. J. Brill.
  • Mackenzie, Simon, and Penny Green, eds. 2009. Criminology and Archaeology: Studies in Looted Antiquities. Portland, OR: Hart.
  • Merryman, John H. 2009. Thinking about the Elgin Marbles: Critical Essays on Cultural Property, Art and Law. Alphen aan den Rijn, The Netherlands: Kluwer Law International.
  • Miles, Margaret M. 2010. Art as Plunder: The Ancient Origins of Debate about Cultural Property. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • Renfrew, Colin. 2009. Loot, Legitimacy, and Ownership: The Ethical Crisis in Archaeology. London: Duckworth.
  • Soderland, Hilary A. and Ian A. Lilley. 2015. "The Fusion of Law and Ethics in Cultural Heritage Management: The 21st Century Confronts Archaeology." Journal of Field Archaeology 40: 508-522.
  • Vrdoljak, Ana Filipa. 2006. International Law, Museums and the Return of Cultural Objects. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

External links[edit]