After unconfirmed reports of widespread looting of artifacts from tombs and storage facilities in Egypt during the uprising there, the archaeology community is on high alert, warning Interpol, border agents, and art dealers and merchants to look out for Egyptian treasures.
Interpol engages in specific efforts to retrieve and return stolen artifacts throughout the world. Specifically, Interpol circulates information to its member countries regarding stolen works of art. To read more, please click here.
Despite such efforts, experts say that stolen loot will inevitably surface on eBay, at auction houses and, yes, even in reputable museums. The global system of tracking antiquities is simply too porous, the demand for ancient baubles too high.
It’s impossible to say how demanding the art market is, especially in the gray and black markets that exist for such goods. But in just one legitimate auction in December, Christie’s of New York sold 263 ancient statues and pieces of jewelry for $34 million. A 3,000-year-old bronze Egyptian standard went for $890,500, and a 4,400-year-old statue from the little-known Cycladic civilization of the Aegean Sea pulled in a whopping $16,882,500.
As for Egyptian treasures, Christie’s – and other reputable auctioneers – sells only items that are documented to have been removed from the country before 1983. That’s when Egypt enacted laws to protect its deep cultural heritage. For example, the bronze standard was published in a catalogue in the early 1980s, Bernheimer said, cementing it as a legitimate acquisition.
Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s chief protector of its antiquities, was elevated on Monday by President Hosni Mubarak to minister of archaeology. Hawass has waged a decades-long battle to repatriate Egyptian artifacts, arguing that they are safe in their homeland. On hearing the view of a few archaeologists that the artifacts would be safer in the West, Hawass vociferously responded that any looting that has occurred in Egypt has been minimal.
Douglas McNabb and other members of the firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, Interpol Litigation, International Extradition and OFAC Litigation.
The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at email@example.com or at one of the offices listed above.