SAFE’s mission is to raise public awareness about the irreversible damage to the study of history and culture that results from looting, smuggling, and trading illicit antiquities. An antiquity loses its informative value when torn from its original context without proper scientific excavation. Likewise, the archaeological site itself is stripped of historical, cultural, socio-economic, religious, and other valuable information when an antiquity is plundered from it. That is why we work toward saving antiquities, specifically objects more than 100 years old that have been unscientifically removed from monuments or archaeological sites.

SAFE promotes respect for the laws and treaties that protect cultural heritage and property. SAFE favors accountability for those who violate United States laws and/or tolerate the violation of other countries’ laws in pursuit of cultural artifacts. SAFE supports the enforcement of international and bilateral cultural property agreements.

SAFE encourages legal and ethical behavior among collectors, dealers, and museums to stop the trade in illicit antiquities. SAFE recognizes the ability of individuals and institutions to lawfully acquire and properly retain or transfer title of antiquities where authorized by law. However, antiquities are more than just aesthetic objects of beauty; they serve as historical evidence of the past. Because principles of supply and demand influence illegal antiquities trafficking, purchasers of antiquities should recognize that high demand can entice others to illegally excavate archaeological sites, smuggle illicit antiquities, and sell stolen objects. Such unlawful and unethical behavior permanently destroys information about the past.

SAFE espouses accurate, professional research combined with dynamic outreach and public education. Only through information and outreach can the public and policymakers work toward ending the looting, smuggling, and trading of illicit antiquities.

SAFE takes positions, where appropriate, on the repatriation of antiquities looted or smuggled after the enactment of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. SAFE’s attention is focused on the current destruction caused by looting and illicit antiquities trafficking so as to protect our shared cultural heritage and the undiscovered past.

“In high school, I collected ancient coins indiscriminately. Once I began my doctoral studies, I became increasingly sensitive to issues regarding looting and the destruction of world history and it is for these reasons I adopted a more responsible form of collecting, which falls within the ethical guidelines of the Archaeological Institute of America and the 1970 UNESCO Convention. SAFE does not advocate the end of collecting, but rather seeks to educate and promote ethical activity amongst collectors, dealers, and scholars.”

Nathan Elkins, Assistant Professor of Art History at Baylor University