The problem: the illicit trade in antiquities

Cultural heritage throughout the Middle East is being destroyed at an alarming rate. A major cause of destruction, and certainly the most preventable cause, is the looting of archaeological sites and museums for cultural objects that can be trafficked and sold in the market countries of Europe, North America, and other parts of Asia. The trafficking is a problem because it:

  • Violates sovereignties;
  • Fosters criminality and corruption;
  • Supports armed violence;
  • Weakens cultural identities;
  • Undermines local economies;
  • Reduces the educational potential of museums and universities.


Very few trafficked objects have been identified, recovered or returned to dispossessed countries of origin, and there have been no prosecutions or convictions of people for transacting illegally traded material. Thus the trafficking networks survive intact and the looting and destruction of cultural heritage continues. The Middle Eastern countries of origin are poorly equipped to deal with the problem.