Ancient Origins Magazine – March-April 2023
English | 129 pages | pdf | 120.68 MB

Stolen History

For centuries, tomb raiders have been on a mission to plunder valuable artifacts from tombs and other cultural sites, often leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. The impact of these heinous acts is immeasurable, as the loss of cultural heritage and historical context cannot be undone. What’s worse is that these nefarious raiders are willing to exploit the dead for their own financial gain, raising serious ethical and moral concerns.
This issue takes a closer look at the harrowing reality of tomb raiding, with real-world examples of the lengths to which these criminals will go. From the desecration of graves in the Nazca desert to the use of explosives and bulldozers by Chinese tomb raiders, the scope of damage is alarming. Then the looted treasures have been whisked away to collectors or museums, often without a thought for their sacred significance to the cultures or rightful owners they were taken from.
But what about the artifacts we see in museums and other institutions today? How did they get there in the first place? The answer to that question is complicated, and it’s one that’s being brought to the forefront of the global conversation on repatriation and the ongoing impact of colonialism. As more countries demand the return of their artifacts, museums, universities, and private collectors are facing mounting pressure
to right historical wrongs. In this issue, we delve into the themes of repatriation and the decolonization of museums with Decolonize Museums’ author, Shimrit Lee. We explore stories like that of the Elgin Marbles and the Benin Bronzes, which have been hotly debated for decades.
But the problem doesn’t end there. We also examine how social networks and technology are both aiding and hindering the activities of modern-day tomb raiders. We hear from experts like Amr AI-Azm, who founded the ATHAR Project, a watchdog group that combats the illegal trafficking of antiquities in the Middle East using social media platforms. We also get a glimpse into how INTERPOL’s Works of Art Unit uses technology to fight cultural heritage crime.
Despite the challenges we face, there are success stories to be found. We highlight stories like the stolen Orpheus mosaic that was returned to Turkey, the cherished moai statue that was welcomed back to Easter Island, and the crown jewels that were confiscated from a 17th century thief. But ultimately, the fight to prevent ongoing looting, repatriate stolen artifacts, and preserve cultural treasures requires a multifaceted approach. Only then can we fully appreciate the richness and diversity of our shared cultural heritage.

Chief Editor, Ancient Origins Magazine

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