Archaeology Odyssey 5:1, January/February 2002

Italy’s Top Antiquities Cops Fight Back

By Hershel Shanks

It’s a problem acknowledged by all. There is no room to store them—the piles of antiquities recovered in both legal and illegal excavations in Italy. There is simply too much. “We ought to dump the excess,” said Angelo Bottini, superintendent of antiquities for the region of Tuscany, at a recent conference on the theft of antiquities and works of art.

The conference was organized by General Roberto Conforti, commandant of the paramilitary carabinieri charged with protecting Italy’s cultural patrimony. Conforti is Italy’s chief cop for the recovery of illicitly excavated antiquities. I asked him about Bottini’s suggestion that we dump the excess. “He isn’t talking rubbish,” he replied.

The obvious implication is that the excess should be sold—unless you can find someone to give it to. Our Rome correspondent Judith Harris spoke with Pompeii archaeologist Salvatore Ciro Nappo, who described the cases and cases of small pieces of painted wall fragments—stored in boxes for decades—that the museum has no room or use for. “They could be sold as souvenirs,” he said.

Although fully acknowledging the problem, Conforti stopped short of approving the sale of antiquities, no matter that there seemed to be no other solution to the problem. His job is to protect Italy’s archaeological riches. “I have to speak as protector of our national heritage,” he said.

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