By law all antiquities from Mexico belong to the Mexican government and it is illegal to sell them or to export them out of Mexico. It is also illegal to excavate archaeological sites without the permission of the Mexican government's National Institute of Anthropology and History, even if the sites are on private land. Most artifacts for sale in the U.S. today were excavated illegally (i.e., they were looted), and most entered the U.S. illegally.
Artifacts that are found by individuals and kept privately are lost to scholarship, since scholars do not know about them. Even when collectors let experts look at their collections, the scholarly value is usually very low because the objects were removed from their sites of origin without proper excavation methods and without documenting their location, depth, context, etc. Most archaeologists, myself included, refuse to provide estimates of value or to provide formal scholarly opinions on objects in private collections because this can encourage the looting of sites and the illicit trade in ancient art.
When artifacts are excavated by archaeologists, they provide new information on the ancient cultures of the area. That information is made available to a wide audience of both professionals and the general public. The objects are typically displayed in a museum (near the site or in another city in the country where they were excavated) for the public to see and for scholars to study. The ancient peoples of Mexico were the ancestors of modern Mexicans, and knowledge of their accomplishments enriches our understanding of Mexican history and is a source of pride to all Mexicans. When ancient objects are excavated by private individuals for their own enjoyment or for sale, and when such objects are sold on the illegal antiquities market, the public is robbed of information and enjoyment, the scholarly community is robbed of information, and only a few people benefit. The commercial market in Mexican antiquities robs the Mexican people of their heritage and harms scholarship.
For these reasons I will not provide commercial valuations of artifacts. I will sometimes provide an opinion on the age, affiliation, or significance of artifacts, but only in cases where it can be shown that they have been obtained legally and are being held legally today.
The Looting Question Bibliography
Looting Matters! The Material and Intellectual Consequences of Collecting Antiquities
Sources of Information on Antiquities Theft
2004 Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World. St. Martin's Press, New York.
Brodie, Neil, Jennifer Doole, and Colin Renfrew (editors)
2001 Trade in Illicit Antiquities: The Destruction of the World's Archaeological Heritage. McDonald Institute Monographs. McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge.
Brodie, Neil, Jenny Doole, and Peter Watson (editors)
2000 Stealing History: The Illicit Trade in Cultural Material. McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge.
Brodie, Neil, and Colin Renfrew
2005 Looting and the World's Archaeological Heritage: The Inadequate Response. Annual Review of Anthropology 34:343-361.
Brodie, Neil, and Kathryn Walker Tubb (editors)
2002 Illicit Antiquities: The Theft of Culture and the Extinction of Archaeology. Routledge, New York.
Bruhns, Karen Olsen
2000 www.plunderedpast.com. SAA Bulletin 18(2):14-15, 17.
Kirkpatrick, Sidney D.
1992 Lords of Sipan: A Tale of Pre-Inca Tombs, Archaeology, and Crime. William Morrow, New York.
2001 Destruction in Mesopotamia. Science 293:32-41.
Layton, Robert, Peter G. Stone, and Julian Thomas (editors)
2001 Destruction and Conservation of Cultural Property. Routledge, London.
Luke, Christina, and Morag Kersel
2005 The Antiquities Market: A Retrospective and a Look Forward. Journal of Field Archaeology 30:191-200.
Lynott, Mark J., and Alison Wylie (editors)
2000 Ethics in American Archaeology. 2nd ed. Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC.
Messenger, Phyllis Mauch (editor)
1999 The Ethics of Collecting Cultural Property: Whose Culture? Whose Property? 2nd ed. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.
2002 Mexico's Archaeological Heritage: A Convergence and Confrontation of Interests. In Illicit Antiquities: The Theft of Culture and the Extinction of Archaeology, edited by Neil Brodie, and Kathryn Walker Tubb, pp. 205-227. Routledge, New York.
1994 Collecting Pre-Columbian Art and Preserving the Archaeological Record. In Painting the Maya Universe: Royal Ceramics of the Classic Period, edited by Dorie Reents-Budet, pp. 290-309. Duke University Press, Durham, NC.
1993 Collectors are the Real Looters. Archaeology 46(3):16-17.
2000 Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership: The Ethical Crisis in Archaeology. Duckworth, London.
Russell, John Malcolm
1998 The Final Sack of Nineveh: The Discovery, Documentation and Destruction of King Sennecherib's Throne Room at Nineveh, Iraq. Yale University Press, New Haven.
1996 Ethical Dilemmas in Archaeological Practice: Looting, Repatriation, Stewardship, and the (Trans)formation of Disciplinary Identity. Perspectives on Science 4:154-194.
This page was produced by Dr. Michael E. Smith, Professor of Anthropology, Arizona State University.
Michael E. Smith's home page.