A Special Live Debate: Do Archaeologists Have an Ethical Obligation to Report Looting?

Debate You’re a field archaeologist, you watch a looter walk away with artifacts — and you don’t report the looting. Are you in the wrong?

Yes, says Prof. Blythe Balestrieri in the most recent Antiquities Coalition Policy Brief. She found many field archaeologists admit to inaction when they encounter looting, and calls for change.

But some field archaeologists challenge her and say it’s not so black and white.


Join us for a special online debate as experts argue different answers to this important ethical question, live, April 29th at 11 AM Eastern. Moderated by Antiquities Coalition Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors Deborah Lehr.

AC Testifies in Support of New Costa Rica MOU

Stone spheres several feet in diameter dot groves in southern Costa Rica’s Diquís Delta, monuments to the indigenous culture that created the distinctive orbs as early as 1,500 years ago. UNESCO added these spheres and surrounding archeological sites to its World Heritage List in 2014 — unfortunately, after a history of disturbance. For example, when the United Fruit Company’s agricultural activities exposed many of the area’s archeological remains in the 1930s, many of those remains were looted.

Costa Rica’s archaeological record stretches back over 14,000 years. Now, to protect the country’s cultural heritage from illicit trade, the government of Costa Rica is requesting U.S. import restrictions on archeological material from the nation.

At an April 15th meeting, the Antiquity Coalition’s Executive Director Tess Davis addressed the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee in support of the proposed MOU. The proposed import restrictions would help to protect both our shared cultural heritage and participants in the legitimate art market.

For additional information on the importance of cultural MOUs, read more here.

Read our letter in support of the US-Costa Rica MOU here.

AC in the News: Museum of the Bible Returns Artifacts in Good First Step, Tess Davis Tells The New York Times

With a $50 million desire for artifacts relating to the Old and New Testaments, the Green family bought up approximately 50,000 artifacts from the Middle East and North Africa. While building such a formidable collection, the collectors failed to heed “red flags”—the phrase federal prosecutors used when in 2017 the Greens had thousands of artifacts delivered to the family’s Hobby Lobby company headquarters “misleadingly described as ceramic tile samples.” At that time, they gave up the artifacts, paid a $3 million dollar fine, and admitted “mistakes.”

Museum of the Bible
Museum of the Bible. Credit: Wiki Commons

But now the Museum of the Bible, founded by Hobby Lobby President Steve Green, is admitting even more mistakes. Sixteen vaunted “Dead Sea scrolls” are actually modern fakes. Soon after this announcement, Mr. Green also made another, that he will return to Iraq and Egypt a trove of 5,000 papyri fragments and 6,500 clay objects sullied by “insufficient provenance.”

Taken together, these actions are a commendable first step—if the parties continue their work to come clean and rectify wrongs. “Mr. Green is doing the right thing by repatriating these thousands of artifacts, but this gesture must be the start of the story, not the end,” Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, told the New York Times.

If the Museum continues in the right direction, the Antiquities Coalition is optimistic that its transparency could cause others to adopt #BuyerBeware practices. Executive Director Davis continued, “The global black market for Middle Eastern antiquities is increasingly driven by biblical scholars, seminaries and the faithful seeking to own a piece of the Holy Land. Given Mr. Green’s platform and other resources, he is in an unparalleled position to stop this demand.”


Read the full story here.

AC in the News: How Maps Can Combat Looting

Daesh (ISIS), the Nazis, Al Qaeda, the Taliban — all engaged in cultural racketeering. More recently, insurgent groups in Yemen are seizing on crisis to loot and traffic antiquities. Stolen goods from these groups and more infuse the global art market, and looted treasures can turn up in premier collections. A key question for buyers who must beware looted artifacts: How do they get there?

One way to articulate the answer is with maps. To cast light on shadowy stories from the black market, the Antiquities Coalition launched a series of interactive online Story Maps that use powerful Esri software to trace the paths of individual artifacts from their theft to the present.

In a new blog post, the mapping and spatial analysis experts at Esri examine the problem of illicit trade and talk with the Antiquities Coalition’s Executive Director Tess Davis about the benefits of spatially representing illicit trade networks. “Maps are crucial,” Davis said, “because they communicate to scholars, government officials, and the public what is at stake and how critical the threat is.”

Read the full blog post here, and explore our Story Maps here.