The looting of archaeological
16. A proportion of the total value of the illicit
trade in cultural property results from the looting of archaeological
sites. That proportion is a matter of considerable dispute, but
the value does not bear directly on the damage done. As the United
Kingdom Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works
put it: "the destruction of the archaeological record is
the same regardless of the monetary value of the artefacts recovered.
Loss of knowledge results and is unaffected by the financial value
of what is retrieved."
17. The looting of archaeological sites goes back
to ancient times.
In its primary concern for objects, early archaeology had some
characteristics associated with looting today. Modern archaeology,
however, relies upon a far greater range of techniques and places
a far greater emphasis upon information. Archaeology is now most
concerned with the context of finds, with the inter-relationship
between objects and their location.
Because of the emphasis placed by archaeologists on context, their
interests and those of collectors of antiquities are more divergent
than in the past.
18. Many archaeologists regard the acquisition of
objects through unrecorded excavation as inherently damaging and
antithetical to the proper purposes of archaeology. The principal
concern of Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, Professor of Archaeology
at the University of Cambridge, was the damage done not by the
illicit trade per se, but by the looting of sites to acquire
objects for the trade: "once they are out of the ground,
in a way the damage is done; you cannot put the toothpaste back
in the tube".
That comment was echoed by the European Association of Archaeologists,
which stated that "it is the destruction of sites that concerns
archaeologists, not the ownership of antiquities".
Moreover, the damage done to a site lies not simply in the loss
of contextual information: fragile materials and objects not deemed
to be of sufficient worth may be destroyed in pursuit of a valuable
19. The loss of both information and material through
the destruction of sites involves the diminution of a finite and
Evidence suggests that in some parts of the world the effects
are devastating. According to Mr Vivian Davies, Keeper of Egyptian
Antiquities at the British Museum,
"the destruction in countries like Egypt is
catastrophic ... Massive destruction is being done to archaeological
sites in Egypt on a daily basis. Objects are finding their way
out through various laundering systems."
Mali has more archaeological sites than any other
country in Africa apart from Egypt, but only a handful of those
sites has been properly investigated. A recent survey of 125 square
miles discovered 834 sites, but also showed that 45 per cent had
been looted, 17 per cent badly.
According to the United Kingdom Institute for Conservation of
Historic and Artistic Works, "the destruction of the world's
archaeological heritage threatens our potential to know anything
substantive of whole civilisations".
20. Evidence on the looting of archaeological sites
is available from all over the world, but it is also to be found
closer to home. Within the United Kingdom, there are three different
legal systems relating to archeological finds. In Scotland, all
newly-discovered archaeological objects are the property of the
Crown and, in effect, a legal requirement to report such objects
In viewing such finds as State property, Scotland is in line with
much of the rest of the world.
In Northern Ireland, there is a statutory requirement for a finder
of any archaeological object to report a find and it is an offence
to excavate any land while searching for archaeological objects
without a licence.
21. In England and Wales, different arrangements
apply. Removal of archaeological objects is not itself an offence
unless those objects are taken from scheduled ancient monuments.
Most objects found belong to the landowner. Separate, and recently
much improved, arrangements apply to "treasure", which
is defined by its precious metal content, under which such finds
are Crown property and must be reported, but the landowner, and
the finder as appropriate, will usually be rewarded at market
Increasingly, finds of objects which do not constitute treasure
are being reported under the Portable Antiquities Scheme, a voluntary
procedure for declaring finds which covers Wales and some areas
of England and which it is hoped to extend to all of England and
22. In England and Wales, there are about 20,000
scheduled archaeological sites that can be the subject of illegal
Two examples illustrate the damage that can be done. From April
1989 to September 1993, the Roman site at Corbridge on Hadrian's
Wall was subject to illegal metal detecting 24 separate times;
on one occasion, up to 55 holes were dug on the site.
It is estimated that coins worth about £2 million were stolen
from a site at Wanborough, near Guildford after discovery of the
site in 1985. The prospects for understanding the linkage between
the coin deposits and the religious purposes of the site were
Looting can take place beyond scheduled sites when objects are
removed without the landowner's knowledge or consent. The Salisbury
hoardto one item of which we referred at the beginning
of this Reportwas removed, sold and dispersed without any
benefit to the rightful owner. Efforts by a member of staff of
the British Museum to trace the location and context of the discovery
of the objects led to a successful prosecution for theft and the
return of some of the looted objects to the rightful owner. Those
endeavours also led to the discovery that objects of a chronological
range of 2,200 years had deliberately been buried together, providing
evidence of a unique example of antiquity collecting in antiquity.
23. Many of the items in the Salisbury hoard were
not returned to their rightful owner. Some had been exported to
France, Japan, Germany and the USA.
This case illustrates that British antiquities form part of the
international illicit trade.
Evidence for this comes also from the Wanborough site and the
case of Romano-British bronze objects looted from Icklingham in
Suffolk which subsequently appeared in a private collection in
the United States of America.
The illicit trade and the British
24. The illicit trade in cultural property matters
because it entails and is linked to criminal activities. It also
matters because it is associated with great and irreversible damage
to the cultural heritage. And it matters because, as the British
Art Market Federation said in evidence to us, it poses a genuine
problem for the open and legitimate art market.
The aim of many of those concerned in the illicit trade is to
infiltrate the legitimate art market and thereby secure maximum
value for an object.
According to the Art Loss Register, items in the illicit trade
"work their way up the chain of respectability until they
achieve full market value".
25. The British art market stands at or near the
pinnacle of that chain of respectability. That market is of great
economic value to this country. In 1998, art market sales in the
United Kingdom totalled £3,288 million. The British market
accounts for 52 per cent of total western European art sales and
is growing faster than the western European market as a whole.
The British art market depends for its success on the standards
and perceived standards of the participants in that market. As
Mr James Ede of the Antiquities Dealers Association put it: "Our
reputation is the most important thing to us that we have".
The integrity of the art market is crucial to its functioning.
As Sotheby's noted, "the auction houses have a strong business
interest in the elimination of the illicit market".
26. This Committee heard allegations that London
is an important centre of the illicit trade in cultural property.
Major General Conforti claimed that a significant proportion of
objects stolen in or illegally exported from Italy and subsequently
traced were found on the British art market. London "auction
houses are unknowingly used by art thieves to 'launder' items
of illegal provenance".
Lord Renfrew was among those who argued that the London market
was heavily involved in the process whereby looted antiquities
without provenance entered the "legitimate" market,
thereby acquiring a deceptive appearance of legitimacy which made
their onward sale acceptable.
27. Mr Charles Hill, a former officer in the Metropolitan
Police Art and Antiques Squad, who gave evidence on behalf of
the British Art Market Federation, accepted that "London
is a centre of the stolen art market", but considered that
London's role was prone to exaggeration.
The auction houses acknowledged that there were instances when
items that might have been stolen or illegally exported found
their way onto the London market: for example, of 168,704 lots
offered for sale through Christie's in 1999 in the United Kingdom,
about 69 were the subject of a claim arising from an alleged theft
or illegal export.
Because auction house catalogues are widely circulated, there
are prospects for such claims to be made; in such instances, lots
The auction houses were adamant that such cases did not justify
London's "relatively new image" as "a hot bed of
illicit trade in works of art".
28. Many participants in the British art market have
undertaken, in a voluntary code of practice, "to the best
of their ability, not to import, export or transfer the ownership"
where they have "reasonable cause to believe" that "an
imported object has been acquired in or exported from its country
of export in violation of that country's laws" or that "an
imported object was acquired dishonestly or illegally from an
official excavation site or monument or originated from an illegal,
clandestine or otherwise unofficial site". The code of practice
states that any violations of it "will be rigorously investigated".
The Antiquities Dealers Association noted suggestions that London
was a major centre for illicit antiquities, but stated that "the
legitimate trade, both dealers and auctioneers, have made great
efforts in the last decade to distance themselves from such traffic".
Mr Ede stated that the Association deplored illegal export in
breach of a country's laws and that he would not trade in objects
The firm position of the British art market was summed up by Ms
Rena Moulopoulos of Sotheby's: "If we know something is illegally
exported, we will not sell it".
29. The illicit trade in cultural property has had
and is continuing to have an impact on the British art market.
It has a bearing upon both the conduct and the perceived conduct
of that market. The commitment of the British art market to endeavour
to ensure that the market is not threatened by and does not facilitate
the illicit trade in cultural property is very considerable. What
remains in question is the effectiveness of the existing measures
to ensure that that commitment is fulfilled.
17 1970 UNESCO Convention, Article 1. On legal prohibitions
on trade in human remains, see, for example, Evidence, p 90 and
R B Cunningham, Archaeology, Relics, and the Law (Durham,
North Carolina, 1999), pp 593-600. Back
157, 454. Back
p 11. Back
p 264. Back
p 151. Back
p 264. Back
p 56. Back
28 Ibid. Back
155, 165. Back
p 374; Q 479; J Butler, "The Art and Antiques Squad",
in K W Tubb, ed., Antiquities: Trade or Betrayed (London,
1995), p 226. Back
pp 72, 151. Back
p 363. Back
p 11. Back
Brodie, J Doole, P Watson, Stealing History: The Illicit Trade
in Cultural Material, Museums Association, June 2000, p 19. Back
pp 12, 343; QQ 61, 228. Back
pp 68, 151, 262, 263; QQ 61, 275, 478. Back
p 12. Back
p 260. Back
pp 24, 25, 258, 259. Back
p 263. Back
p 260; P J O'Keefe, Trade in Antiquities: Reducing Destruction
and Theft, UNESCO, 1997, pp 14-15. Back
72, 83. Back
p 11. Back
p 260. Back
Antiquities: A Discussion Document,
Department of National Heritage, February 1996, para 12. Back
p 250. Back
Antiquities: A Discussion Document,
para 12. Back
p 35. Back
M Stead, The Salisbury Hoard (Stroud, 1998; paperback edition,
2000), ch 11; QQ 42, 101. Back
42, 121, 700; Portable Antiquities Annual Report 1998-99,
Department for Culture, Media and Sport, March 2000, pp 25, 48. Back
p 258. Back
pp 11-12. Back
Salisbury Hoard, passim. Back
p 74. Back
pp 26, 34. Back
pp 34, 258-259; Q 42; Stealing History, p 42; J Browning,
"A Layman's Attempts to Precipitate Change in Domestic and
International 'Heritage' Laws", in Antiquities: Trade
or Betrayed, pp 145-149. Back
p 68. Back
pp 78-79. Back
p 164. Back
p 168. Back
pp 12, 27; QQ 73, 94, 466. Back
pp 152, 153; QQ 453, 461. Back
pp 13, 15, 24, 25, 153, 263-264; Q 75. Back
p 162. Back
pp 163, 167; QQ 484-485. Back
p 164. Back
p 56. Back
157, 183-184. Back