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The Numbers "Selling the Past: United States v. Frederick Schultz"
April 22, 2002

[image]Schultz offered this looted, 6th Dynasty limestone sculpture of a nobleman to the Brooklyn Museum of Art for $600,000 in 1993. [LARGER IMAGE]

In a statement following Frederick Schultz's conviction, NADAOPA said that it considers his case "an isolated incident that does not reflect the high standard and prudent practices of the association's members." But there are constant reports of antiquities looting, smuggling, and convictions worldwide. "In a lot of these countries, the scope and scale of looting is out of control despite the countries' best efforts to protect their sites," says Ricardo Elia, who is also the vice president of professional responsibilities for the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), which publishes ARCHAEOLOGY.

The ICOMOS World Report 2001-2002 on Monuments and Sites in Danger reported that two-thirds of its reports noted threats to archaeological heritage, including looting "from Cyprus to Guatemala, Israel to the Czech Republic" and vandalism and destruction including the Taliban's dynamiting of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan. Interpol estimates that the value of the trafficked art and antiquities is surpassed only by that of narcotics and weapons trafficking.

Antiquities researchers have started studying individual museum and private collections, too, for signs of looting and smuggling. Christopher Chippindale, curator of the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology, and David Gill, an archaeologist at the University of Wales at Swansea, examined seven major antiquities collections for the American Journal of Archaeology in 2000. Approximately 75 percent of the 1,396 antiquities in the collections were of unknown origin, with many surfacing for the first time well after the passage of national antiquities regulations. "There are big private collections and museum collections of art, not archaeological objects, with very little information on them at all," says Elia. "The only thing that you can do about them now is to talk about their beauty and style--their 'art.'"

Jerome Eisenberg, founder and director of the Royal-Athena Galleries in New York and London, points out that sometimes provenance and accurate ownership records are lost because items were collected long before the existence of antiquities conventions. "I find pieces coming up in auction that I sold 30 or 40 years ago, and it doesn't say that they came from my galleries," he explains. "Most collectors have no interest in keeping a record because they buy for beauty, appreciation, and love of the object and not for investment." For example, Eisenberg estimates that only one in ten scarabs out of 3,000 that he sold in the 1960s and have now reappeared retained their provenance.

Chippindale and Gill, however, still believe that most of the items they studied have murky origins because they were obtained illegally. Many have no previous record of ownership at all.   [Next Page*

© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America