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.

Nebry by Dbachmann


‘Raubgrabung’ means ‘illegal excavation’ in German (literally ‘robbery dig’), and ‘Raubgräber’ is a term used to refer to those excavating an archaeological site illegally, usually involving the use of a metal detector.

The mask is thought to come from this looted tomb (from National Geographic)

Río Azul

Remote Classic Maya site which was extensively looted in the 1970s for spectacular grave goods.

Rio Azul Mask from National Geographic

Río Azul Mask

A Classic Maya funerary mask apparently looted from the Guatemalan site of Río Azul and illicitly trafficked into the United States and then Europe.

Rio Azul Vase (1984.12.A) The Detroit Institute of Arts

Río Azul Vase

A Classic Maya vase now in the Detroit Institute of Arts that is thought, based on linguistic evidence, to have been looted from Tomb 12 at the Guatemalan site of Río Azul in the late 1970s.