Thompson argues to protect Syrian heritage, don’t buy it

In an LA Times OP-ED, Erin Thompson argues Syria is home to a rich array of cultural heritage. Noting the risk to the works of art from thousands of archaeological sites, she highlights an under-acknowledged threat.

The public can recognize one threat—the ongoing civil war. But there is another, the American appetite for beautiful objects:

There is a simple solution: Do not buy antiquities. The United States is a major market for these objects, with some buyers who know better and many who don’t. Americans can create a market for smuggled antiquities and drive looting, or they can defeat it. There was a major decrease in elephant poaching after Americans decided that the beauty of ivory was no excuse for the destruction that brought it to market. We stopped buying ivory buttons, figurines and other trinkets that seemed individually seemed too small to make a difference — but they did. We need to have the same attitude when we see a tempting ancient coin, statuette or piece of jewelry.

Some collectors who are aware of the illegal digs argue that they are rescuing antiquities by giving them a new home outside of the instability of Syria. But such thinking only feeds the market forces that result in looting. Moreover, the extraction of “rescued” antiquities involves the destruction of the surrounding archaeological context and any associated objects that lack the beauty required by the marketplace. When context is destroyed, so is the chance for the kind of careful study that reveals the workings of ancient civilizations.


Thompson, Erin, ‘To Protect Syria’s Antiquities — Don’t Buy Them’, Los Angeles Times, 29 September 2013.

One thought on “Thompson argues to protect Syrian heritage, don’t buy it”

  1. Thank you for such a passionate appeal to the American public to not acquire items without clean provenance.

    My one comment, and somewhat concern, is over the lack of a broader appeal to all nations, since the economic interest in looted artifacts is more prevelant in developing nations and other market countries. The U.S has taken enough of the brunt of negativism, often times unwarranted.

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