Two men walk through as a historic neighborhood burns during a military raid.

Looting: The Destruction of History

Historic neighborhood burns during a military raid in 2012  Credit:
Historic neighborhood burns during a military raid in 2012

 Throughout the history of mankind, cultures have looted from other  societies. Whether it be at times of conflict, or after a society’s collapse,  historians have traced artifacts excavated in one culture back to another  culture entirely. Today looting exists for many reasons, the primary reasons  being a means to fund political campaigns and wars and the demand of  artifacts for public and private collections. Both of these situations are  fueled completely by the high monetary value of these looted items.

The Middle East is a dotted landscape of  archaeological ruins from societies that have ceased to existed for thousands of years. Yet, their culture lives on by the stories that archaeologist can piece together through innumerable excavations. The artifacts that they uncover help teach generation after generation their story, but looting removes history behind them (Russell 29). Once an artifact is sold on the black market its’ story is forever lost, the culture it came from forgotten, and it just becomes a beautiful, ancient object to look at. Although there are many consequences that stem from looting, the most catastrophic is the rapid loss of culture occurring in the Middle East.

An arial view show the destructive nature of the looting occurring in Syria Credit:
An arial view show the destructive nature of the looting occurring in Syria

 The illegal trade of looted artifacts in the middle east is  now compared to the diamond trafficking in some  African countries. While the diamond trade is known as  “blood diamonds,” the looting and illegal trade of  artifacts is now called “blood antiquities” or “conflict  antiquities” (Mulder 3).  Just as the diamond trade  helped African countries pay for war, the trade of  conflict antiquities is helping accomplish the same. This  causes repercussions that are detrimental to the  preservation of many ancient cultures. Once an artifact  is looted and sold, the provenience is lost. Without the  context, we lose the history and meaning of that  artifact (Russell 29). Although many people worldwide  view looting as a purely negative act, society has allowed for this to occur. Terrorist groups are an easy target to blame for the illegal trafficking of artifacts, but it must be taken into consideration that someone is purchasing these looted items. The trade of antiquities is being facilitated by buyers and sellers across Europe, the Middle East, and the United States (Mulder 2). Terrorists groups are not the only ones looting these artifacts. In some countries, such as Syria, the government is also taking part is this horrific practice (Mulder 2).

So how do we begin to stop this vicious cycle from perpetuating? There are many small steps that can help make this issue well known worldwide. In attempt to raise awareness and stop widespread looting in the Middle East, countries should encourage the United Nations to ban the sale of antiquities (Mulder 3). While a UN ban on the trade of Antiquities in countries such as Syria and Iraq may not stop looting and trafficking, it could help raise awareness of this growing epidemic. By making the general public aware of the rapid loss of culture that is occurring each day, there would be more pressure on governments to help create stricter laws stopping the trade of these antiquities.

Even though trafficking antiquities is difficult to prosecute, by letting the public know how this issue is continuing to grow can help reduce the number of artifacts that are traded. It is the history of the earliest societies that is getting lost through looting. It is our duty as earlier man’s ancestor to ensure their stories live on throughout time.

Written by: Taylor Lawhon