Heritage crime

Together with other colleagues we re-funded the Community on the Illicit Trade in Cultural Material. We are part of the EAA, the European Association of Archaeologists. You can follow us also on twitter via @EAAHeritageLost.

The EAA-Community on the Illicit Trade in Cultural Material supports the following codes of principles concerning stewardship (note here Hamilakis 1999 and 2003 for a critical view on the topic) and commercialisation of archaeological material:


The general archaeological record is unique and irreplaceable. It is therefore the duty and responsibility of every archaeologist to protect and contribute to the long-term preservation of world archaeological heritage. This includes a duty to prevent, report, and raise public and especially institutional awareness, of criminal activities such as the damage, destruction or devastation of cultural heritage, and the illegal trafficking and selling of cultural heritage.

We endeavour to protect all material culture and its context of past people and societies on the basis of the social memory of them, and not on the basis of a selectively constructed record. We have ethical responsibilities to the materials we study, the people with whom we work, and especially to the people living where we study those materials. We act with political awareness, not only to protect the cultural heritage for the future, but also with responsibility for the present, and question political decisions which result in human suffering and destruction of cultural heritage.


Europe is one of the leading regions in the international trade of illegally acquired cultural heritage. This results in the vast destruction of archaeological sites and the loss of the material culture and connected information, all of which is essential to understanding the archaeological record. Archaeologists should consequently

  1. report any illegal activity, or trade of potentially illegally-acquired material culture;
  2. raise public awareness of the legal consequences of the damage and destruction of cultural heritage, and the resulting loss of information;
  3. never act as an expert or advisor for auction houses, antiquaries, or private collectors if the object or collection of objects concerned are not going to be part of a collection open to public and research, and does not have a legitimate provenance;
  4. contribute in any form to discourage commercialisation of archaeological material. The publication of illicit or doubtful goods shall be accepted only if the find concerned is not legitimized and the doubtful provenance or illicit background clearly pointed out and problematized.


  1. Mödlinger, M. – Tsirogiannis, C. 2020. Recent Cases of Unprovenanced Armour in the Antiquities Market and Its Clients. Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt 50/3, 323-337. (download PDF)
  2. Mödlinger, M. – Denel, E. – Črešnar, M. – Mele, M. – Özdogan, M. – Thomas, S. – Tsirogiannis, C. – Van Cant, M. – Volkmann, A. – Fernandez-Götz, M. – Vanzetti, A. – Yalman. Y. 2016. Committee on the Illicit Trade in Cultural Material. The European Archaeologist 49, 16-20.
  3. Hamilakis, Y. 1999. La trahison des archeologues? Archaeological practice as intellectual activity in postmodernity. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 12/1, 60-79.
  4. Hamilakis, Y. 2003. Iraq, stewardship and ‘the record’: An ethical crisis for archaeology, Public Archaeology 3/2, 104-111. DOI: 10.1179/pua.2003.3.2.104