Saturday, 5 January 2013

Study Reveals Looting of Archaeological Sites as Massive Global Problem

A report, entitled Archaeological Site Looting in "Glocal" Perspective: Nature, Scope and Frequency, has just been published of a study conducted by Blythe Bowman Proulx (assistant professor of criminal justice in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University). It finds that pervasive looting at archaeological sites is widespread and frequent. The numbers suggest serious implications for the preservation of the world's cultural heritage and in understanding or rediscovering human history

Proulx collected information through a structured questionnaire sent electronically to field archaeologists throughout the world and designed to collect first-hand information about looting at archaeological sites, with the objective of developing a picture of the nature, geographic scope, and frequency of looting and site destruction within local and global contexts. She received responses from 2,358 archaeologists around the world.
Based on their feedback, looting activity occurred in 87% of the 118 countries that were reported as primary locations for archaeological fieldwork. Most respondents (97.9%) reported that looting was occurring in the general area or country where they conducted fieldwork, and "78.5% reported having had personal on-site experience with looting at some point during their careers".
Proulx is quoted as saying that the results mean that her study:
"lends empirical support to the claim that looting is an iterative problem that is both globally and temporally pervasive, not confined to certain areas of the world or particular types of archaeological resources... Looting - and, consequently, the role it may play in the antiquities trade - can no longer be dismissed as simply exaggerated, nor can concerns about looting be cast off as the mere products of scaremongering archaeologists with over-blown imaginations and thinly veiled preservationist agendas".
It is not entirely clear what the lawyer understands by the term "preservationist agendas", or why they would be "thinly veiled". Surely we should all be concerned about the preservation of any kind of valuable resource, the more so if it is as finite and fragile and affecting us all as the historic environment. I see no reason why anmyone with any concerns about its preservation from wanton destruction would need to "veil" their concerns. I think we should be all of us, conservationists, be shouting them from the rooftops.

The text of the report is available in the January 2013 issue of the American Journal of Archaeology as an open access forum article.

As a continuation of the article, members of the [one assumes from the content, US] public are invited to complete a similar survey about the looting of archaeological sites. It's rather superficial though and makes no allowances for the fact that there is a good chance that the coiney section of the "members of the public" could well decide to sabotage it - since there is no question concerning whether the respondent is an antiquity collector or dealer, rather negating it as a source of information.

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