Stolen Antiquities

April 13, 2007 • Volume 17, Issue 14
Should museums return relics to their country of origin?
By Adriel Bettelheim, Rachel Adams

Introduction

A looter holds an ancient urn from the Isan Bakhriat archaeological site in Iraq. Since Saddam Hussein's fall, looters have stripped unguarded archaeological digs throughout the country.  (Getty Images/Matt Moyer)
A looter holds an ancient urn from the Isan Bakhriat archaeological site in Iraq. Since Saddam Hussein's fall, looters have stripped unguarded archaeological digs throughout the country. (Getty Images/Matt Moyer)

An ancient vase at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art is fueling an intensifying ethical and legal debate about some of the world's most celebrated works of art. Two years ago, Italian authorities produced evidence the ancient vessel had been smuggled from Italy and demanded its return. Such prized artifacts have raised thorny questions about the ownership of cultural treasures in private collections and museums around the world. The controversy — and attendant criminal trials of alleged smugglers — is also shedding new light on the secretive world of antiquities collecting — a realm populated by tomb robbers, wealthy connoisseurs and aggressive dealers and curators. Some experts estimate that up to $4 billion worth of precious art is being illegally traded. Whatever their worth, ancient artworks are priceless to Italy, Egypt and other nations increasingly using cultural artifacts to exert political leverage and stoke national pride.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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Jul. 14, 2017  Funding the Arts
Apr. 13, 2007  Stolen Antiquities
Oct. 21, 1994  Arts Funding
May 25, 1990  Tying Down Federal Funds for the Arts
Jun. 05, 1987  The Art Market
Jan. 22, 1982  Trends in Architecture
Feb. 20, 1981  Criticism and Popular Culture
Aug. 11, 1978  Support of the Arts
Sep. 27, 1974  Museum Boom
Feb. 01, 1974  Black Arts Revival
Nov. 28, 1973  New Directions in Architecture
Oct. 17, 1973  World Art Market
Dec. 25, 1970  Directions of the Dance
Jun. 04, 1969  Movies as Art
Feb. 12, 1969  Regional Theater
Mar. 27, 1968  Art and Antique Frauds
Aug. 28, 1963  Arts and the People
Aug. 02, 1961  Government and the Arts
BROWSE RELATED TOPICS:
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