It should not really come as a surprise that Lebanon has experienced problems with looting given its rich ancient past, troubled recent past, and location at the crossroads of commerce in the Mediterranean. It also has a connection with the Sevso Treasure—a forged Lebanese export permit meant that Lebanon intervened in the legal dispute with the Marquess of Northampton, Croatia, and Hungary. The Marquess’ Trust retained possession of course, and Lebanon withdrew from the action when the export permit was revealed to be a forgery.
But it also has a rich material heritage. An anonymous looter tells Rana Moussaoui that:
“I know that these are historical artifacts, but much of the time I don’t know their exact value,” Abu Nayef admitted to AFP in his garden in Baalbeck.
“Sometimes we even move from one piece of land to another through tunnels, if we think we can find new vestiges,” he added. . . .
“I have a wife and six children to support, and I do so through this business,” he explained.
This problem plagues a number of nations, but Lebanon has had particular difficulty. Looting became widespread during the civil war between 1975-1990. Funding for heritage preservation and policing is lacking, and there are a number of important sites. In what is an otherwise sound article, Moussaoui criticizes the National Museum in Beirut for “showcasing 2,000 archaeological relics” while “hundreds of thousands of other pieces are gathering dust in storage”. That ratio could probably be found in just about any museum; what goes on display is only the tip of the iceberg. It may not be fair to criticize Lebanon for what is a common situation all over the World.
Rana Moussaoui, Lebanon’s archaeological sites a pillager’s paradise, AFP Mar.25, 2010.