Controlling the International Market in Antiquities: Reducing the Harm, Preserving the Past

28 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2009 Last revised: 24 May 2012


The looting of archaeological sites imposes negative externalities on society through the destruction of knowledge and corruption of the historical record. The purpose of imposing legal consequences is to deter conduct that harms society. The law has therefore responded, through recognition of national ownership laws, as in U.S. v. McClain and U.S. v. Schultz, and through implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, to deter trafficking in looted and undocumented archaeological artifacts. Reducing market demand for such antiquities has the goal of reducing supply and thereby decreasing the economic incentive for the looting of sites.

Nonetheless, recent research has shown that due to the structure of the international antiquities market and of the criminal justice system, current disincentives have not been sufficient. This article examines a number of proposed solutions, including decreasing regulation of the market, establishing legal markets, increasing voluntary self-regulation through codes of conduct of professional associations and museum associations, and increasing indirect regulation of museums by state attorneys general and of the market, by requiring that donors of antiquities to museums establish that they have full legal title before receiving full market value for their tax deduction.

Keywords: antiquities, archaeological sites, looting, museums, 1970 UNESCO Convention

Suggested Citation

Gerstenblith, Patty, Controlling the International Market in Antiquities: Reducing the Harm, Preserving the Past. Chicago Journal of International Law, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2007; The DePaul University College of Law, Technology, Law & Culture Research Series Paper No. 09-005. Available at SSRN:

Patty Gerstenblith (Contact Author)

DePaul University College of Law ( email )

25 E. Jackson Blvd
Chicago, IL Cook County 60604
United States
312-362-6175 (Phone)
312-362-5190 (Fax)

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