Whose Artifact is it Anyway?
Artifacts and antiquities are what were left behind by ancient civilizations. A more specific definition of the word "antiquities" is "something of ancient times, as monuments, relics, customs, etc." (Stein 60). Artifacts and antiquities should not be taken from their country of origin because they are sold on a large black market, they preserve the history and culture of their country, and removing them from archaeological sites can be illegal.
The black market for antiquities and artifacts is extremely popular. "What price can you put on a culture? The answer, as smugglers know to their benefit and museums to their cost, is as much as anyone is willing to pay for it" (Lidstone). "'The unpleasant way to express it is to say it is greed,' said Arkansas archaeologist Charles McGimsey, director emeritus of the Arkansas Archaeological Survey" in Tony Davis' article. There is an extremely high demand for antiquities on the black market. People are willing to get artifacts at any cost and thieves are willing to sell items for any cost. "As the market for stolen goods has grown, so too have the skills of the procurers" (Lidstone). Thieves are becoming sneakier in stealing and smuggling artifacts. For this reason, it is becoming harder to track down stolen goods. Dabney Ford, in the article "Disturbing the Pieces," says that pieces of pottery "are easy targets because of their beauty" (Davis). In other words, thieves know what they are looking for when they steal artifacts.
An article called "Thieves of Time" shows that "these artifact thieves had no interest in the human story behind the spear points. To them, prehistoric artifacts are merely curios to collect, trade, or sell ("Thieves of Time"). This article shows that the thieves only care about the money they make, not the history and culture behind the artifacts they steal. "'Illicit trafficking in antiquities totals perhaps $2 billion a year,' says the U. K.'s McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research" (Vardi 156). There are major losses in archaeology due to illegal trade of artifacts, as well. However, there are ways to stop this trade. A suggestion by Glen Vessa in Catherine Sampson's work states that anyone looking to buy artifacts should not buy from art dealers who say that all deals are final (413). However, Japan has a legal trade system for antiquities not deemed "'national treasures'" and Italy is trying to develop a similar system (McGuigan, Murr, and Nadeau).
Not only is money lost by stealing antiquities, but the culture and history of a culture is as well. The illegal trade of antiquities is the second largest illegal trade in Latin America; it also takes away from the identity of those countries (Elton 5). "…If you rob someone's history, you are robbing part of their future" (Elton). In other words, preserving the past lets future generations of a country learn about their culture and their country's history. Stealing artifacts takes away that knowledge. The article "Thieves of Time" shows that, for thieves, "primary interest is in having the artifacts or selling them, rather than understanding the prehistoric story and preserving it for future generations. ("Thieves of Time"). As previously stated, thieves of antiquities could care less about preserving the past. At least $18 million worth of artifacts are taken illegally from Peru ("Taking on the Tomb Raiders…" 39). Another statistic in this article ("Taking on the Tomb Raiders…") shows that Peruvian artifacts bring 1 million tourists to the country (39). Most artifacts cannot be shown to the public, since they have been stolen and most likely sold on the black market.
Stealing from archaeological dig sites, along with illegal trade of artifacts and antiquities, can also take away from the history and culture of a country, as shown by this quote: "one of the fundamental values of archeological sites lies in the information that sites contain and the knowledge that can be gained from their study" (Henry). Stealing artifacts from archaeological dig sites can be illegal. "Rangers can tell serious 'diggers' from the deep pits, tumbled ruins, and tire tracks left behind" (Hendrix 16). Theft of artifacts can be obvious and archaeologists know the signs of tampering with the dig site. However, damage to a site can be done by natural causes, such as earthquakes, erosion, fires, floods, etc., according to an article by Susan L. Henry.
An article by Charlie Furnis states that taking artifacts has become easier due to technological advances, such as machines to help dig up the artifacts. "America's laws protecting Indian artifacts are part of the problem, Ms. Ford and others say. They don't restrict the bulldozing, taking or sale of artifacts from private land" (Davis). Although there are laws protecting some sites, not all are.
Steve Hendrix suggests staying out of archaeological sites while hiking or backpacking, not touching or digging for artifacts if a trail leads through a dig site, and reporting violators (16). Suggestions for preventing theft from archaeological sites in the article "Thieves of Time" are: report any sites that you come across, watch out for suspicious activity, and report vandalism. As previously stated, there are ways that ordinary people can prevent theft of artifacts.
In conclusion, artifacts and antiquities should remain in their home country because there is a large amount of illegal trade of artifacts, a large loss of culture, and archaeological site theft. If measures are taken to stop this illegal trade, the loss of culture and money can be prevented. "Thanks to recent international pacts that condemn the smuggling of artifacts, there's been an ethics shift that seems to favor the claims from countries of origin" (McGuigan, Murr, and Nadeau). In simpler terms, one step being taken is that international laws are being created to try to stop illegal trade of artifacts.
Davis, Tony. "Disturbing the Pieces: NM Park Vexed by Plunder of Pottery Shards." Dallas Morning News 18 Oct. 1992: 43A+. SIRS Knowledge Source. ProQuest. C. D. Hylton High School Library, Woodbridge, VA. 8 Apr. 2008. .com/cgi-bin/hst-article-display.
Elton, Catherine. "A Path to Recover Patrimony." Americas (English Edition) Jan. 2000: 5. General OneFile. Gale. C. D. Hylton High School Library, Woodbridge, VA. 20 Feb. 2008. .com.
Furnis, Charlie. "Plundering the Past: the Looting of Antiquities has a History as Old as the Antiquities Themselves…" Geographical Jan. 2007: 48+. General OneFile. Gale. C. D. Hylton High School Library, Woodbridge, VA. 20 Feb. 2008. .com.
Hendrix, Steve. "The Wrong Kind of Souvenir: Ancient Artifacts are Fast Disappearing from Some Southwest Backpacking Meccas." Backpacker Dec. 1996: 16. General OneFile. Gale. C. D. Hylton High School Library, Woodbridge, VA. 15 Feb. 2008. .com.
Henry, Susan L. "Values of Archaeological Sites, The." Protecting Archaeological Sites on Private Lands 1993: 8+. SIRS Knowledge Source. ProQuest. C. D. Hylton High School Library, Woodbridge, VA. 8 Apr. 2008. .com/cgi-bin/hst-article-display.
Lidstone, Digby. "Hot Property: From Retrieving Archaeological Treasures in the 18th Century to Clamping Down on Modern-Day Smugglers,…" Middle East Economic Digest 8 Aug. 2003: 4+. General OneFile. Gale. C. D. Hylton High School Library, Woodbridge, VA. 20 Feb. 2008. .com.
McGuigan, Catherine, Andrew Murr, and Barbie Nadeau. "Whose Art is It?." Newsweek 12 Mar. 2007: 54+. SIRS Knowledge Source. ProQuest. C. D. Hylton High School Library, Woodbridge, VA. 8 Apr. 2008. .com/cgi-bin/hst-article-display.
Sampson, Catherine. "Buying a piece of History: Hong Kong's Trade in Smuggled Chinese Antiques is Thriving-At Least for Now." Fortune 28 Apr. 1997: 413. General OneFile. Gale. C. D. Hylton High School Library, Woodbridge, VA. 20 Feb. 2008. .com.
Stein, Jess, ed. Random House College Dictionary (Revised Edition), The. New York: Random House, 1980.
"Taking on the Tomb Robbers: Peru (The Trade in Peruvian Antiquities)." The Economist (US) 8 Sept. 2007: 39. General OneFile. Gale. C. D. Hylton High School Library, Woodbridge, VA. 15 Feb. 2008. .com.
"Thieves of Time." Thieves of Time 1994. SIRS Knowledge Source. ProQuest. C. D. Hylton High School Library, Woodbridge, VA. 8 Apr. 2008. .com/cgi-bin/hst-article-display.
Vardi, Nathan. "The Return of the Mummy." Forbes 22 Dec. 2003: 156. General OneFile. Gale. C. D. Hylton High School Library, Woodbridge, VA. 20 Feb. 2008. .com.