Biblical Archaeology Review 22:5, September/October 1996

Editorial: How to Stop Illegal Excavations

By Hershel Shanks

Biblical Archaeology Review

Site looting is rampant in parts of the Near East. The looters are of two kinds. One is very difficult to control. The other can be stopped relatively easily.

The two kinds of looters are those with permits to excavate and those who dig without permits. The first type consists of professional archaeologists who excavate but do not publish scientific reports of their excavations. They are not usually called looters, but the effect is the same. Their digging is essentially destructive because it cannot be repeated to test the results. In the absence of a final scientific report, the information gleaned from the excavation is irretrievably lost. The finds are often mislaid, stored in basements of antiquities authorities or otherwise lost. When the public does learn about these finds, the artifacts, like antiquities on the market, have no context by which they can be interpreted.

We have discussed this kind of looting on at least two occasions in the past;a we hope to do something more concrete in the near future. But the problem is complex and not easily solved.

The second kind of looters are illegal diggers who sell their loot on the antiquities market.

The antiquities market can also be divided in two—the high end and the low end. Common pots, oil lamps and the like are on the low end. This is the key to solving the problem of illegal excavations.

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