The Community on the Illicit Trade in Cultural Material aims to:

  • raise public awareness of looting and illegal excavations;
  • stop trafficking and the selling of cultural heritage objects that do not have strong proof of legal and ethical origin;
  • develop strategies for a common European legal basis for the protection of archaeological sites, artefacts and tangible cultural heritage in general;
  • develop a new European Standard for the use of metal detectors to locate archaeological objects;
  • establish partnerships with interested parties and customs & excise and law enforcement agencies working on similar issues (e.g. UNESCO, UNIDROIT, Interpol, Italian Carabinieri, UK London Metropolitan Police Art and Antiques Unit);
  • raise public and institutional awareness of the social impact of damage and destruction of cultural heritage, and of the legal consequences.

We aim to prevent and reduce looting and illegal excavations by a variety of far-reaching strategies, including organising public activities and raising of public and institutional awareness of the negative consequences of illegal excavations for society, such as loss of cultural and scientific value, common history, identity, and socio-economic (incl. touristic) potential. Also, we aim to raise public awareness of the value of archaeological finds, and their context for everyone (providing information at schools, exhibitions, disseminating information material, collecting and publishing of information online (blog and social media accounts)).

A special focus is on so-called ‘high end’ collectors; this is about raising ethical issues, making it more difficult to justify unethical collecting practices in light of the impact they have on archaeological sites, and the loss of contextual information of the finds in general. Significant attention is also drawn to effective regulation of and engagement with legal artefact hunters (e.g. metal detectorists in countries where this hobby is legal).

Moreover, we offer cooperation with public agencies, international organizations, local and international law enforcement professionals, and specialists working on similar issues (UNESCO, UNODC, UNIDROIT, Interpol, Europol, ICOM, national law enforcement and heritage protection agencies, academia and researchers). Such activity inter alia raises the profile of ‘heritage crimes’, and result in productive partnerships (including advising export licensing authorities, customs and border control, and others). Consequently, we support a call for more coordinated sharing of information across Europe, from intelligence on sales and crime trends through to more coordinated data sharing for (i.e. compatible software to enable cross-comparisons and transnational research between national and international databases). Examples of such databases can be found in Israel and Egypt (see below).

The community moreover aims to provide a holistic overview and publish regularly reports on the current situation on heritage crime in every membership country. Over time we will kindly ask EAA-members to contribute to our studies with information about their country. We kindly ask EAA-members to contribute to this activity by providing information about their countries. Another aspiration is the creation of country-specific brochures both for archaeologists and the interested public, summarizing the current legal status, and the negative effects of unauthorised excavations, artefact hunting, theft from museums and collections, and archaeological material originating from armed conflicts taking place in various parts of the world.

We aim to limit trafficking and accept selling of cultural heritage to those objects that have a certificate of origin as e.g. noted in the Directive 2014/60/EU and the Berliner Erklärung (1988; see Thorn 2005, Anhang 2, 407-408) by supporting the establishment of an (inter)national database in order to register finds with photo and identifier number. For example, the Israeli high court announced recently that all antiquities dealers will have to allocate every artefact an identification number and picture, which will be stored on an electronic database. Egypt is going to follow this example. Another issue will be to encourage more museums to join ICOM, and consequently to adhere to the ICOM codes of ethics, especially articles 2, 7, and 8 (see link below).

We refer to the critical statement of C. Renfrew (2006) on museum acquisitions and the therewith connected responsibilities for the illicit trade in antiquities.

We urge all our colleagues to use every communication channel, from social media and encounters with the press, to guided tours for schools, to spread information about archaeologist’s ethical standpoint and why it is important to protect our cultural heritage.

Ethical aspects are very significant in the professional activities of archaeologists, which is why we work in close cooperation with other EAA-colleagues on the creation of the corresponding Code of Ethics.


Renfrew, C. 2006. Museum Acquisitions. Responsibilities for the Illicit Traffic in Antiquities. In: Brodie, N., Kersel, M. M., Luke, C., Walker Tubb, K. (eds). Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and the Antiquities Trade (University Press of Florida).

Thorn, B. 2005. Internationaler Kulturgüterschutz nach der UNIDROIT-Konvention. Schriften zum Kulturgüterschutzrecht (Berlin).