Do Archaeologists Have an Ethical Obligation to Report Looting? A Legal Approach

Commentary No. 1
September 2020
By Justice Luigi Marini

Editor’s Note: This Commentary expands on the Antiquities Coalition Policy Brief 6, written by Dr. Blythe Balestrieri, “Do Archaeologists Have an Ethical Obligation to Report Looting? Protecting Antiquities and an ‘Ethical Double Standard.’”

Dr. Balestrieri’s policy brief provides clear and documented information about the different motivations for archaeologists’ inaction in presence of evidence of illegal excavation and looting. We know how much the decision to report incidents to proper authorities is a sensitive one. The report could strongly affect the relationship with the local community and its leaders that is so important both to the daily work of the archaeologist and to future activities. It could cause a hold on excavations and make connections with local authorities difficult and problematic. The decision to file a report could even impact donors’ engagement.

The aim of the present comment is to argue that a variety of motivations, like compassion toward subsistence diggers or the risks related to bribery and corruption, can be effectively addressed in the frame of a comprehensive approach, that does not leave the archaeologist alone in front of the choice to be undertaken.

“Further comments to Dr. Balestrieri’s paper would be welcome and could contribute to encourage relevant actors to promote a dedicated research and related project, aimed at advancing both in the comprehension of the above-mentioned criticalities and in identifying possible solutions.”

Justice Luigi Marini