Stopping the trade in illicit antiquities

If Greece and other countries with a rich archaeological history want to discourage the international looting of antiquities, their governments must not lend their treasures to museums which do not have strict acquisitions policies, says Professor Colin Renfrew, a leading British archaeologist who calls the illicit trade in artifacts «the greatest threat to the world’s archaeological heritage.» Cutting off what Renfrew deems «rogue» museums – and they include institutions as high-profile as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museum of Fine Art in Boston – would send the message that governments are serious about stopping the illegal trade in antiquities. Meanwhile, he says, those museum directors who do not lead their institutions to adopt strict codes for acquisitions «would do well to resign.» Renfrew, who has excavated extensively in Greece, points to the British Museum in London as one institution that has adopted such a code. The museum based its standards on a 1970 UNESCO convention prohibiting the circulation of looted artifacts. Renfrew, who retired from the University of Cambridge in 2004, is a former director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research in Cambridge. The Illicit Antiquities Research Center, which is part of the institute, was established by Renfrew in 1996 and opened in 1997. Renfrew, who spoke to Kathimerini English Edition about antiquities trafficking, also discussed the issue earlier this week at a speech sponsored by the British Council and Anemon Productions and held at the Benaki Museum’s Pireos Street annex.