Biblical Archaeology Review 39:5, September/October 2013

First Person: Smile! You’re on Camera

By Hershel Shanks

If you steal a tube of toothpaste at the local drugstore, you are likely to end up at the police station. If you dig up a rare vessel from Biblical times at an archaeological site in the Near East, you are likely to get away with it.

Why the difference? The answer is simple. A security camera in the drugstore will catch you in the act.

Much of the archaeological establishment will tell you not to buy the looted vessel, as if that would discourage thieves from plundering archaeological treasures. Worse still, leading archaeological institutions won’t allow the plundered vessel to be published in their professional journals. The reasoning goes something like this: Publication increases the vessel’s value; if it’s worth less, collectors are less likely to buy it; if it’s worth less, thieves are less likely to steal it. If you don’t follow this, neither do I.

I’ve been urging for years to concentrate on catching the thieves and putting them in jail. This is the best way to discourage looting. It’s not easy, but it’s better than turning a blind eye to the loot. Why not try something like hidden security cameras at archaeological sites that are being plundered?

Well, it’s finally being done—no thanks to me. At Alacahöyük in central Turkey, rich finds have been recovered from 13 shaft graves that have been dubbed royal tombs, dating to the Early Bronze Age (2350–2150 B.C.E.). The site, which is being excavated by Professor Aykut Çinaroğlu of Ankara University, is now protected with security cameras.

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