"Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers and the Looting of the Ancient World" with Roger Atwood

Thursday December 2, 2004, 6:00PM
The Puffin Room, New York, New York

SAFE presented Roger Atwood’s book in the first of a series of book signing and reading events. The event was accompanied by a presentation of images from the book and concluded with a lively Q&A session. This event was cosponsored by St. Martin’s Press.

About Stealing History and Roger Atwood

Roger Atwood has spent years studying the market for stolen objects, from the moment they are dug out of the earth until they become encased in museums or placed on the auction block. In Stealing History, Atwood documents how the antiquities trade has become a streamlined, efficient industry that is slowly tapping out the last physical remains of ancient civilizations around the world.

Beginning with the systematic looting of the National Museum in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Atwood explains how the hype around that looting was more bogus than real, but also bears witness to the wholesale devastation of Sumerian archaeological sites in Iraq to feed the international antiquities market. Atwood also focuses on Peru, following tomb-raiders and smugglers as they take looted antiquities from ruins and graveyards to museums and antiquities galleries in America.

In Stealing History, Atwood takes readers on a journey through the sad, strange world of looters, smugglers, and dealers in illegal artifacts. He recounts the incredible story of the largest known extant piece of pre-Columbian gold, an 1,800-year-old artifact looted from a monarch’s tomb in Peru in 1987 and shuffled through a cast of antiquities dealers until it wound up in the trunk of a smuggler’s car in New Jersey.

The result of this looting, wherever it happens, is a distortion of the historical record. Those who are more interested in profit than in history destroy the sites they raid, and thus any chance that a site’s significance will be properly documented and understood by future generations. Tomb-raiding has a long history–but Stealing History shows how the process has lately accelerated and become both more sophisticated and more devastating.

Chapter by chapter, this highly readable expose reveals both the extent of the robbing, the vast sums of money involved, and the market forces that are driving the hunt for stolen artifacts.

“This book contributes more than any other publication in more than 30 years to an understanding of the devastation to cultural heritage caused by site looting and to the search for solutions.”

Patty Gerstenblith, American Journal of Archaeology