Habtra, Iraq: there have been fears over stolen antiquites in the region
Archaeologists from around the world are meeting in Cambridge University to discuss the setting up of an international body to prevent the looting of historic sites.
The Illicit Antiquities Research Centre, based at the university’s McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, says that the volume of illegally excavated and exported artefacts has “increased enormously” in the past 20 years.
More than 60 archaeologists and academics from 20 countries will be meeting at the institute on Monday to discuss ways of reducing the threat to historic sites and artefacts caused by looting and the trade in stolen antiquities.
An international black market in antiquities is increasing the number of raids on historical sites
Among recent causes for concern for archaeologists have been the loss of items from ancient cities in Iraq, in the wake of the Gulf War, and the trade in excavated material from important sites in Mali and Peru.
The organisers say that they want the conference to be a “springboard” for the formation of an organisation to “stem the looting and discourage the collecting of ancient objects”.
The delegates will discuss the loss of historical evidence through the destruction of finds by looters and the links with an international black market in illegally-acquired antiques.
The research centre, which monitors looting and the trade in antiquities, says that this growing illegal industry has been the key factor behind “the large-scale plundering of archaeological sites and museums around the world”.
“The single largest source of destruction of the archaeological heritage today is through looting – the illicit, unrecorded and unpublished excavation to provide antiquities for commercial profit,” said Professor Colin Renfrew, director of the institute.