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.

Large olmec stone carving against a black background. It is in the shape of an earth monster with a cross shaped mouth. It is the piece described in the main body text.

Chalcatzingo Monument 9

An Olmec Monument that was looted from Mexico and returned by the United States in 2023.


Ecuadorian Artefacts Seized in Miami in 1986

The trafficker, who planned on buying weapons with the proceeds from sale of the artefacts, was convicted of US customs violations after he was denounced by a confidential informant...


Egypt 2011

Egypt’s rich archaeological heritage has always struggled with the impact of the ‘illicit antiquities trade and illicit excavation’ (Shyllon 2011: 136). The uprisings of 2011 exacerbated this problem.


Egyptian Museum in Cairo – Thefts and Recoveries in 2011

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo found itself in the centre of the 2011 Egyptian uprisings (the wider impact of which for Egypt is discussed in a separate entry), in part due to its location on Tahrir Square, upon which much of the protesting focussed (Anderson 2011). On 28 January 2011, despite apparent attempts to protect the museum and its contents (Butler 2011; El-Aref 2011a), looters and...


Egyptian objects sold at Bonhams and Christie’s London in 2013

Material stolen from Egypt and sold through Christie’s and Bonhams in London.

Olmec, El Manati, Wooden Busts

El Manatí Wooden Olmec Busts

A collection of small Olmec figural carvings found in a single archaeological context. Busts of this style have been seen on the art market and have been seized from the collection of dealer Leonardo Patterson. Some questions have been raised around issues of authenticity.

Overhead View of El Zotz from Prensa Libre 2010

El Zotz

Classic Maya city heavily looted in the 1960s and 1970s.

El Zotz Lintel 1 by Eu-Jin Goh 2006

El Zotz Lintel 1

Classic Maya carved wooden lintel looted from the site of El Zotz, Guatemala, in the late 1960s and repatriated from the collection of the Denver Art Museum in 1998.

Dou Figurines

Empress Dou Figurines

Figurines stolen from Tomb of Empress Dou returned to China by Sotheby’s in 2003.

Euphronios krater MiBAC 2010a

Euphronios (Sarpedon) Krater

The Euphronios (Sarpedon) krater is a red-figure calyx krater made in Athens circa 515 BC, signed by Euxitheos as potter and Euphronios as painter. It was bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1972 for the then record-breaking price of $1 million, and is now thought to have been excavated illegally in Italy in 1971. In 2006, the Metropolitan restored ownership of the krater to Italy.


Everbeek Roman Silver Hoard

The third-century Roman silver hoard from Everbeek is one of the most high-profile archaeological finds of recent years in Flanders and it has contributed to the political debate surrounding amateur metal detection.