Yates, D. (2015), ‘Trafficking Culture’, History Today, June Issue.
Heritage forms an important part of our identities. Archaeological sites and artefacts let us navigate an uncertain future by helping us to understand who we were and who we are. Confronted with the durability of the material remains of ancient lives, our own lives seem less ephemeral: the people of the past have left their mark and so shall we. The past is a powerful tool. Ancient sites house living tradition and culture. Communities threatened by conflict, disaster, globalisation and cultural loss draw strength from the past to rebuild their future. Archaeological tourism can bring much-needed income to developing countries. The educational opportunities offered by intact heritage sites inspire development in even the poorest locations. The past belongs to everyone and should be used as a force for collective good. But our culture is trickling away. It is looted, trafficked and sold to meet the insatiable international demand for cultural objects. Archaeological looting is a global problem and so far none of our proposed solutions has worked.