Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Friday, January 30, 2009

Looting made easy

Looting; that never ending problem.  It's no secret that looting and the antiquities unearthed by looting stain the museum world's reputation today.  Names like Marion True and the MET come to mind when looting is discussed.  In recent years, many countries have tried to put measures in place (with varying success) to stop looters and drain the illegal antiquities market of merchandise.  Apparently, though, some countries are also trying to make it easier for looters to do their work.  

Most people associate looting with digging up tombs or hoards and selling off the various artifacts found.  Digging a hole is certainly a work out, but cheap none the less.  There is also an entire industry built up around the looting of shipwrecks.  Though a much more expensive operation, looting shipwrecks can certainly reap great "rewards" for those involved.  It can be argued that the waters off Greece probably have the most shipwrecks of any geographical area.  And it's those uncounted shipwrecks that are fair game for looters.  Once upon a time, the vast majority of Greek's coast was off limits to divers.  As a result, valuable shipwrecks were saved from being destroyed.  Not so anymore.  I'm saddened that a country like Greece, with it's immense cultural history, would put that very history on the line to make a buck.  Sure, Greece is in financial straights, but a short sighted solution like opening up the coast to divers could cost the country untold amounts of cultural patrimony.