January 17, 2005

Stealing History

Posted at 2:55 am in Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

A new book is out about the history of looting of ancient sites.

The Boston Globe

Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World
By Roger Atwood

St. Martin’s, 337 pp., illustrated, $25.95

The looting of antiquities has been such a ubiquitous practice that it becomes noteworthy only when it reaches truly brazen proportions, as when Lord Elgin, Britain’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, stripped the Parthenon of its sculptures or when, 200 years later, Iraqi opportunists raided ancient archeological sites while the bombs of “shock and awe” were still falling.

Journalist Roger Atwood gained extraordinary access to actors at every level of the illicit trade in antiquities — from the farmers and villagers who are usually the first to stumble on a site, to the reputable museums and auction houses profiting from an international traffic that mirrors the drug trade, complete with “mules” and FBI stings.

Packed with detail, “Stealing History” focuses on the looting of a recently discovered site in Peru, the Royal Tombs of Sipn, with its hoard of opulent ceremonial objects in silver, copper, and gold. Atwood’s sensual appreciation of these treasures only increases his indignation on behalf of the peoples whose cultural patrimony is being stolen. “In this business only the poor get punished,” one informant tells him. “We don’t call the rich looters, we call them collectors.”

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