This Encyclopedia constitutes a preliminary source of case studies that reveal aspects of the transnational illicit trade in cultural objects.
Each entry synthesizes information taken from what are considered to be reliable sources, and presents a bibliography of primary publications to facilitate further research. We endeavour to prepare texts that are factually accurate and objective accounts, and the texts are not indicative of an author’s personal opinion.
The Encyclopedia is a work in progress, and new entries will be added (and current entries updated as appropriate) as time permits. The authors endeavour to attribute any images that are used, but we should be contacted by the owners of unattributed images.
Cerro El Plomo Child
The first high-altitude frozen mummy found in Chile. It was located and then hidden by looters who eventually sold it to the government.
A Hopewell burial mound located on private property in Indiana that was illegally looted by road construction workers in 1988 and 1989.
The Getty Aphrodite is a large (about 2.3 m tall) limestone and marble statue of a female deity, probably Aphrodite, Hera or Demeter, dating from 425–400 BC. It was acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1988 and returned to Italy in 2007.
Giacomo Medici is an Italian antiquities dealer who was convicted in 2005 of receiving stolen goods, illegal export of goods, and conspiracy to traffic.
In 2008, a US army helicopter pilot pled guilty to possessing and selling antiquities stolen from an Egyptian storeroom that had been excavated from the site of Ma’adi.
Site of a massive looting incident which may have yielded over 200 kg of Colombian gold artifacts in 1992/1993.
Marcus Aurelius head
Marble head stolen from Algerian museum recovered from Christie’s New York in 2004.
Marion True was Curator of Antiquities at the J.Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles from 1986 until 2005. She was charged and tried in both Italy and Greece on offences related to antiquities smuggling, but never convicted.
Maya ‘Fresco’ Fake
Antiquities dealer Leonardo Patterson convicted of federal wire fraud for attempting to sell a fake Maya ‘fresco’
Maya antiquities sold at Sotheby’s in 1995
Two pre-Columbian antiquities offered for sale by Sotheby’s New York in 1994, were later found in photographs taken by an admitted artifact looter and smuggler.
Some of the most informative studies of the traffic in cultural objects have been conducted by investigative media.
Distinctive pottery style from the south western United States; all known Mimbres cultural sites have been looted.
A silver hoard removed from the Sicilian site of Morgantina by looters around in 1979/80 which was eventually purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Mosaic Maya Mask
Mosaic stone mask said to have been looted from a Mexican cave and now in the collection of Dumbarton Oaks.
Five elaborately carved panels that were smuggled, sold, (almost) used to pay a kidnapping ransom, subject to a landmark court case, and were returned to New Zealand in 2014.
Moundville Archaeological Repository Theft
Organized theft of over 250 archaeologically-excavated artefacts from a repository in Alabama.
Museo Nacional de Antropología Theft
Museum theft at Mexico’s national museum which resulted in the loss of several of the country’s most famous artefacts. These artefacts were later recovered.
Vibia Sabina Statue
A 2nd century Roman statue looted from Italy, acquired by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1979, and returned to Italy in 2006.