Art Crime pp 255-262 | Cite as

Antiquities Crime as a Policy Problem

  • Lawrence Rothfield


As the title of this volume indicates, the topic of archaeological looting is usually thought of as a subset of the larger category of art crime, analyzable using the same general approaches as those used to describe and model the theft of artworks. That is no surprise. The underlying assumption, that archaeological materials and artworks are the same kind of things, is deeply embedded in our language and our cultural institutions. So, for example, while we do at least sometimes distinguish “antiquities” from “antiques” in everyday speech, we very seldom distinguish “archaeological materials” from either, and under “antiquities” we include all sorts of ancient artifacts and artworks that were never buried, forgotten, and subsequently excavated. Our universal museums, in turn, collect, study, and display both works of art and antiquities, including antiquities that were excavated, generally displaying the latter as if they were works of art. If there is any difference marking archaeological material (aside from the difference that makes some material saleable and other material mere detritus), it is small enough to be poo-pooed: as the Metropolitan Museum’s director, Philippe de Montebello once put it, “How much more would you learn from knowing which particular hole… [the Euphronios krater] came out of? Everything is on the vase.”‘1


Archaeological Site Archaeological Material Archaeological Heritage Heritage Protection Illicit Antiquity 
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  1. 3.
    See Patty Gerstenblith. “Has the market in antiquities changed in light of recent legal developments?” in The Futures of Our Pasts: Ethical Implications of Collecting Antiquties in the Twenty-first Century, ed. Michael A. Adler and S. Bruning (Santa Fe: SAR Press, 2012), p. 73.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Lawrence Rothfield. The Rape of Mesopotamia: Behind the Looting of the Iraq Museum (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), p. 138.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    See the helpful table provided by Neil Brodie and Daniel Contreras. “The economics of the looted archaeological site of Bäb edh-Dhrä: A view from Google Earth” in All the King’s Horses: Essays on the Impact of Looting and the Illicit Antiquities Trade on Our Knowledge of the Past, ed. Paula Lazarus and A. Barker (Washington, DC: SAA Press, 2012), p. 11.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Kantstantinos D. Politis (2002). “Dealing with the dealers and tomb robbers: The realities of the archaeology of the Ghor-es-Safi in Jordan” in Illicit Antiquities: The Theft of Culture and the Extinction of Archaeology, ed. Neil Brodie and K. Tubbs (London: Routledge), pp. 257–267.Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    Charles S. Kocszka “The need for enforcing regulations on the international art trade” in The Ethics of Collecting Cultural Property: Whose Culture? Whose Property?, ed. Phillis Messenger, 2nd edn. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999), p. 186.Google Scholar
  6. 16.
    John Merryman “A Licit international trade in cultural objects” International Journal of Cultural Property 4 1995: pp. 13–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Lawrence Rothfield 2016

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  • Lawrence Rothfield

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