The market for antiquities has skyrocketed in the recent past. But U.S. News & World Report says the burgeoning traffic has raised questions about the provenance of the relics. Where are these precious artifacts coming from? And who are their rightful owners? In the case of too many antiquities, the answers are very far from clear. And evidence is increasing that more and more artifacts are being illegally excavated from their countries of origin. A recent British study of five large collections totaling 546 objects, for instance, determined that fully 82 percent of the objects were suspect.
Countries have long complained about the trade in smuggled artifacts and have been largely unable to stop it. But a high-profile investigation in Italy has exposed how a network of prestigious museums, wealthy collectors, and tony auction houses have for years turned a blind eye to the illicit practices of the dealers who supply them with archaeological treasures and ancient art. An arts dealer and the former antiquities curator for Los Angeles’s J. Paul Getty Museum, are charged with conspiring to trade in and receive stolen antiquities–42 items acquired by the Getty. The case, which has chilled the antiquities market, raises anew the question of who owns history.