The Latest

#AntiquitiesDebate Explores the Ethics of Reporting Looting — or Not

May 5, 2020

Do Archaeologists Have an Ethical Obligation to Report Looting?


This provocative question ignited a wide-ranging discussion about the causes of looting, the relationship of looting to a global illicit trade, and the duties of archaeologists and other professionals who might encounter evidence of looting.

Our panel of international experts drew on their diverse experiences to explore the question’s complexity and address the surprising findings of Prof. Blythe Alison Bowman Balestrieri’s Policy Brief. The Antiquities Coalition welcomed the insights of:

Luis Jaime Castillo

Professor of Archaeology at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Foreign Associate at the National Academy of Sciences, and Director of the San Jose de Moro Archaeological Program. He previously served as Minister of Culture, Peru.

Ramadan Badry Hussein

Director of the Saqqara Saite Tombs Project at the Institute for Near Eastern Studies at the University of Tübingen, Germany. He previously served as Chief of Staff to the Minister of Antiquities, Egypt, and has excavated in Giza, Saqqara and Baharyya Oasis.

Luigi Marini

Justice Luigi Marini serves at the Italian High Court (Court of Cassation) in Rome. He was most recently senior advisor to the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations specializing in cultural heritage preservation.

Blythe Balestrieri

Associate Professor of Criminal Justice in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government & Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University. She authored the Policy Brief “Do Archaeologists Have an Ethical Obligation to Report Looting? Protecting Antiquities and an ‘Ethical Double Standard’”

The Policy Brief discovered nearly a quarter of responding field archaeologists reported taking no action when they saw evidence of looting in the field. The panelists agreed these professionals should report looting — but must they? They considered factors including:

  • Relationship to the site. Are archaeologists local or foreign?
  • Employer. Are there different duties when an archaeologist is paid by a government?
  • Danger. Must an archaeologist report looting when doing so might be dangerous?

A poll of attendees found 85% believe archaeologists have an ethical obligation to report looting. Do you agree?

Watch the full debate for insight on a question with important real-world implications for archaeologists, and share your thoughts with #AntiquitiesDebate.