Archaeology Odyssey 5:1, January/February 2002

Editors’ Page: Protecting Archaeological Sites

A professional conference, anyone?

By Hershel Shanks

Archaeology Odyssey

I have tried (not always successfully) to avoid editorializing in my interviews with Robert Conforti and Giuseppe Proietti (“Italy’s Top Antiquities Cops Fight Back”), two Italian officials responsible for protecting Italy’s cultural heritage from looting and theft. Just the facts, ma’am. But a few comments do seem justified.

Some things we can all agree upon. Among them: The problem is complex, not easily solvable. Second, most of the officials dealing with the problem are agreeable at least to considering a variety of solutions.

Perhaps the first item on the agenda should be to define “the problem.” It has, it turns out, many parts. The looting of Early Bronze tombs at Bab ed-Dhra in Jordan is not the same as looting Apulian vases in southern Italy. The first has started only recently and is done by peasants who find mostly undecorated low-end pots. The tombaroli in southern Italy, on the other hand, have been robbing graves for generations, they are organized and armed (the Mafia may even be involved), and the pots they find are beautifully painted.

In both there are local aspects to the problem (the ability and will of the governments to control it, the social needs of the peasants who do the looting, the outlets for the product) and international aspects (laws, treaties, international trade, smuggling).

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