Ricardo J. Elia is Associate Professor of Archaeology at Boston University. He has published extensively about archaeological ethics, law and heritage management, policy and the antiquities market. As the author of some of the most influential works in the history of illicit antiquities research, he generously answered our questions on this topic.
Sofia Cecchi is an archaeologist specializing in cultural heritage management and museology. Originally from Italy and Chile, she studied at Columbia University (BA) and the University of Cambridge (MPhil), where she analyzed the relationship between museums and the illicit antiquities market. Sofia currently works as a researcher for a global heritage consultancy that plans and develops projects across the cultural sector. Her other interests have taken her all over the world, from archaeological fieldwork in Latin America to exhibition development at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Here's the beginning of the interview as published in the Spring 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime:
Sofia Cecchi: What was the initial spark that made you want to study the ethics of collecting and the trade in illicit antiquities?
Professor Elia: While a grad student digging at Stobi (then Yugoslavia, now the Republic of Macedonia) in the late 1970s, my mentor, James R. Wiseman, showed me how looters were destroying archaeological sites in the search for marketable antiquities. Prof. Wiseman also created an innovative section of the new Journal of Field Archaeology, called “The Antiquities Market,” which featured articles about the topic. I also learned a lot from the writings of Oscar White Muscarella, who among other things destroyed the myth of the "reputable dealer" in the antiquities market.
Sofia Cecchi: “Collectors are the real looters.” More than twenty years have passed since you made this memorable statement. Have any positive changes occurred in the past decade?
You may finish reading this interview by subscribing to the Spring 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime or ordering it at Amazon.com.Professor Elia: There is definitely more public awareness than ever about the problem of looting and the fact that collectors, both private and institutional, are driving the market by creating the demand for antiquities. Looters, of course, are the ones doing the looting, but they are operating in a supply-and-demand economic system that starts with the creation of demand for cultural objects. So collectors, whether they are private individuals or museums are, indeed, the real looters and in the last two decades there has been a huge growth in public awareness of this fact. This comes from several sources: increased media attention; more aggressive legal actions by source countries; and a depressing spate of armed conflicts in the world that have resulted in both destruction looting of archaeological sites.