I am sure that someone who actually knows the situation in Britain (and
it's complex, because things are different here in Scotland from England
and Wales) will come in and tell us the answers. In response to my comment
("Stolen property must have been stolen from someone. Archaeological
artefacts looted from sites have not been stolen from anyone."), John
"I don't know what the situation might be abroad, but surely in England
looted artefacts DO belong to someone - the landowner. And every inch of
England belongs to somebody. One of the complications of so much our
'heritage' legislation is the perceived need to preserve the 'owner's'
rights - eg to allow the state some sort of protective control, on behalf of
the public, over an ancient monument or building that actually 'belongs' to
First, on the situation in England (Britain), I suspect that the problem
is caused because antiquities only exist to be owned once they have been
found and taken out of the earth. In a number of other countries,
especially in the east Mediterranean and Near East which I know something
about, there is a general antiquities law which says (a) that all
archaeological sites are protected by the state, and (b) antiquities are
what an archaeological site consists of. Archaeological sites are whatever
the state says they are, so as soon as a site is recognized activity on
that site is constrained by the antiquities law.
If you think that that is a simple and straightforward way for a nation to
protect its archaeological heritage, then you will find it ironical that
many of the states that have such legislation were formerly British
colonies, protectorates or under British mandate. Their antiquities
legislation was drafted by intelligent British administrators or advisers.
It does cause some problems for the modern-day archaeologist excavating or
researching under such legislations. It also produces major headaches for
the antiquities and museums staffs, who are responsible for ALL sites and
EVERYTHING that comes from them. For the excavator, it often means that
things such as soil samples or carbonized wood and plant remains require
the formality of an antiquities export licence in order to get them back
to the laboratories where they are to be analysed or studied.
University of Edinburgh,
School of Arts, Culture and Environment.