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Archaeology: Protect Cultural Heritage

Protect Cultural Heritage

Trafficking in Cultural Property

Cultural property is part of the common heritage of humankind. It is so unique and important a testimony of the evolution and identity of peoples, that the importance of protecting it has been stressed in several international instruments.

Organized criminal groups are increasingly involved in trafficking in cultural property, both through legitimate markets, such as auctions and through the Internet, and in underground illicit markets. Trafficking in cultural property is also becoming an important source for the laundering of the proceeds of crime, and has been recently identified as a possible source of financing for terrorist groups.

Trafficking in cultural property involves several acts that may ultimately result in the loss, destruction, removal or theft of irreplaceable items. While criminals make significant profits from this illicit trafficking, humankind is denied access to archaeological information and to artefacts of its shared heritage. For instance, many relics and monuments from past generations remain buried underground. Where ancient artefacts are stolen and the sites in which they were hidden are destroyed through looting, archaeologists are unable to gather knowledge about the past. A substantial amount of looting happens around the world, and yet so far the efforts to combat trafficking in cultural property have not been in proportion to the gravity and extent of this criminal manifestation. Continue reading from UN Office on Drugs and Crime

Illicit Antiquities and Illegal Trade

Illicit antiquities, archaeological objects that have been illegally excavated or exported from their country of origin for monetary gain. Most countries place sovereign claims on their archaeological heritage. In countries with strong patrimony laws, it is illegal for an unauthorized individual to excavate or own antiquities (which are in effect taken into state ownership); in those with less stringent legislation, it is legal to own antiquities but not to export them. There is a thriving trade in such material, whether it be Paracas textiles from Peru, stone Khmer sculpture from Cambodia, ceramic vases from Italy, coins from England, terra-cotta statuettes from West Africa, or bronze Nataraja statues from India. Trade in illicit antiquities is a multibillion-dollar industry, comparable in size to the illegal traffic in drugs and arms. Every antiquity, it seems, can command a price, and every country has a supply. Continue reading from Encyclopedia Britannica

Art and Antiquities: Conduits for Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing

Trafficking—of blood diamonds, endangered wildlife or even humans—has garnered fierce international engagement in recent years. One under-addressed illicit trade is that of art and antiquities. While ancient art and antiquities can serve as sound investments, such acquisitions can also support nefarious activity and compromise consumers.

Cultural racketeering—the looting and trafficking of art and antiquities—funds crime, conflict and extremism around the world. Art and antiquities have financed some of the last century’s worst actors from drug cartels and mafia syndicates to the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge and al-Qaeda, and cases of looted and trafficked antiquities continue to make headlines across the world. In cases of sanctioned individuals seeking access to U.S. financial institutions or criminals seeking funds for illicit activities, art can also be a conduit through which to launder money. This is a global problem, and it requires global solutions. Continue reading from ACAMS Today


From our Collection

Link to Sins of the Shovel: Looting, Murder & The Evolution of American Archaeology by Rachel Morgan in the catalog
Link to Possession by Erin Thompson in the Catalog
Link to Stealing History by Roger Atwood in the Catalog
Link to Africa's Struggle for Its Art by Benedicte Savoy in the catalog
Link to Stolen, Smuggled, Sold by Nancy Moses in the Catalog
Link to Contested Antiquity edited by Esther Solomon in the Catalog
Link to The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel in the Catalog
Link to Chasing Aphrodite by Jason Felch in the Catalog
Link to The Rape of Europa by Lynn Nicholas in the Catalog

Return to the Visual Arts Collection Resource Guide Series