Illicit trade in antiquity

No one crosses the gate of beauty without being damaged (China)

For most of us travelling abroad means experiencing the culture of a nation. Travellers usually return home with souvenirs and fond memories.

However, there are occasions when travellers are offered items of antiquity for sale, such as coins, or they come across exposed sites where antiquity is easy to find. In parts of the world where there is great conflict and extreme poverty, and where there is a demand to acquire antiquity in the West, local people will look for archaeological sites and burial grounds and dig there in the hope of finding items for sale. This inevitably leads to important heritage disappearing.

“Objects of all types and materials, from prehistoric times to the Indo-Greek, Buddhist and Islamic periods are being lost. Sculpture, architectural elements, ancient manuscripts, bronzes, wooden objects and ceramics are being illegally exported at an unrelenting rate. It is the duty of the international community to unite in protecting this unique cultural heritage…”

Afghanistan Antiquities at Risk, International Council of Museums

Travellers should refrain from accepting any items of this nature when going abroad. By engaging in this act the traveller could also be commiting a crime.

Members of the public may also receive gifts of antiquity from relatives and friends working in such parts of the world. Whilst such an acquisition was probably conducted under friendly terms and no crime has knowingly taken place, there is a problem here as it is considered illicit. Once taken it is probably lost for good.

Some museum curators are currently being approached by members of the public with such gifts so that these items can be properly identified. Important action like this, by members of the public, are encouraged as this helps the museum service record what materials are being taken.

Textile fragment initially taken from a burial by a tourist visiting Peru