Due to its illicit nature it is impossible to quantify the exact size of the black market trade in antiquities. The following facts and figures help us understand the trade’s magnitude and the extent of its damaging effects:

  • Unauthorized collecting or digging for artifacts is illegal on federal land and many other public lands in the United States, as well as on private land without permission. Yet, an estimated 80 percent of the ancient archaeological sites in the United States have been plundered. Stolen Artifacts Shatter Ancient Culture, The Arizona Republic, November 12, 2006.
  • In the last two decades of the 20th century more Andean historical heritage was lost to looters than during the previous four centuries. Roger AtwoodStealing History (St. Martin’s Press, 2004).
  • Antiquities smuggling has been connected to terrorism. 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta, contacted a German art expert at Göttingen University during his time living in Hamburg in 2000 or early 2001, claiming that he had access to “ancient artifacts of considerable value” which he wanted to sell to raise funds for the purchase of an aircraft. The exact nature of the art objects is not known, but they are thought to have been cultural relics smuggled out of Afghanistan. The professor apparently recommended that Atta contact Sotheby’s. Art As Financing for Terrorists?, Der Spiegel, 2005.
  • Between 3,000 and 7,000 objects are still missing from the April 2003 looting of the Iraq Museum. The actual number of stolen pieces cannot be confirmed due to the volume of records lost during the ransacking of the museum. Resurrecting the Baghdad Museum, Time Magazine, May 7, 2008.
  • Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the looting of Iraq’s archaeological sites continued, with up to 15,000 objects taken from the ground daily, according to Professor MacGuire Gibson, of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago who has worked extensively in Iraq. Lost: The Looting of Iraq’s Antiquities, Museum News, Jan./Feb. 2007.
  • As a party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention since 1983, the US has agreed to restrict the importation of antiquities from  countries. The U.S. State Department
  • According to Interpol, the most popular means of cultural property theft involves breaking and entering. Private residences, museums, archaeological sites, and places of worship are popular targets among looters and thieves. Interpol, 2007.


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“95% of all antiquities in the US had been smuggled.”

1970 quote attributed to John D Cooney, a former curator of ancient art at Cleveland Museum. Guardian Unlimited, 07.21.06