Heritage and Illicit Trade

September 2005 -

Illegal trade in archaeological and ethnographic objects sold and purchased as 'art' outside of their country of origin is thriving. The causes, solutions and treaties combating illegal trade in cultural heritage were recently discussed in the digital KIT special Heritage & Illicit Trade. This special contained field reports, relevant sources on the theme, information for travellers and links to relevant organisations and websites.

The protection of cultural heritage and the problems of illegal delving and trade are closely related to the areas in which the KIT Tropenmuseum and the KIT Library are active. The KIT special Heritage & Illicit Trade discusses the issues involved, and also contains interviews with Neil Brodie of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and with Susan Legêne of the KIT Tropenmuseum.

Numerous ethnographic objects end up in museums and private collections in North America, Europe and Japan. Sadly, the demand for such objects is greater than the supply. Archaeological finds and ancient monuments are therefore often targeted by thieves and vandals. Museums and cultural or religious institutions are also often simply robbed.

Many museums have their own ethics when it comes to their collections. Sometimes the slightest doubt of the origin of an object is reason enough not to include it in the collection. This is one way in which museums try to set an example. However, sometimes a museum opts to ignore the dubious trade path travelled by a unique object.

KIT Specials are websites in English with information and links about current topics relating to the KIT and to development issues. The specials are compiled by KIT Information & Library Services.