My Chapter on Archaeological Context

I have posted on SSRN my chapter on archaeological context, titled:  The Fundamental Importance of Archaeological Context it appears in ART AND CRIME: EXPLORING THE DARK SIDE OF THE ART WORLD, pp. 3-12, (Noah Charney, ed., 2009).  

It is a short piece, which was quite pleasurable to write.  I tried to account for why so much law and policy has been erected to protect this context.  And though there are disagreements by a number of cultural policy makers about the laws and policies which should apply; everyone agrees in principle that archaeology is an import discipline and the illicit trade damages our understanding of the past.  

 There are a number of other excellent chapters in the book which I can recommend, including David Gill’s piece on the return of antiquities to Italy; a piece by Kenneth Polk and Duncan Chappell on Fraud in the art trade; and Judge Arthur Tompkins’ proposal for an International tribunal to handle art disputes.

It is an excellent collection of essays, many of which are quite lively; which should help to increase the awareness devoted to the problem. 

Questions or Comments? Email me at

3 thoughts on “My Chapter on Archaeological Context”

  1. I agree much law and policy (including criminal sanctions) have been erected to protect context, but all of it appears to be directed outwards against collectors,antiquities dealers and museums. Should there be similar law and policy (including criminal sanctions) levied against archaeologists and cultural bureaucrats in source countries that allow context to be lost due to failure to record it properly or publish it for others to share? Or, other sanctions for failure to adequately preserve, display and protect the artifacts themselves? Now, that would be an interesting article.


    Peter Tompa

  2. Thanks for the comment Peter. I think you are right that the penalties are directed against the groups you’ve listed. But you can’t really arrest an archaeologist because a mosaic has been stolen from a dig she’s been working on for nearly a decade right?

    Pressure needs to be brought on these groups to do a better job, but antiquities dealers—to take one example—can’t really exert that pressure if they are buying objects which have been looted can they?

  3. Derek- Archaeologists should bare some responsibility for site security. You shouldn’t be able to just drop in for a 6 week dig and then be off again for the rest of the year, hoping the locals [who often view archaeologists as unwanted outsiders] won’t come and see what they can find. Perhaps, there should be a requirement that archaeological groups must fund site security while they are gone. With new surveillance technology, that should be easier now than in times past. But this really does not address my point. Who is policing archaeologists that dig but don’t publish and cultural bureaucrats in source countries who don’t take care of what they already have in storage? Why so much ink spilt on “looting,” and so little on poor stewardship?


    Peter Tompa

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