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Who are antiquities looters?

Thinking about the economic pressures that might cause someone to become an antiquities looter.
Ethiopia
© University of Glasgow

What is ‘Subsistence Looting’?

From the Trafficking Culture Encyclopedia

The term ‘subsistence digger’ or ‘subsistence looter’ is used to refer to an individual who engages in the illicit excavation of archaeological sites for saleable cultural objects due to extreme poverty. It is derived from the idea of subsistence farming and implies that the person engaging in the activity has few other economic opportunities; that they are looting for survival, not profit.

The etymology of the term ‘subsistence digging’ can be traced back to anthropologist Dwight Heath’s sympathetic study of illicit excavation in Costa Rica. He struggled to find an equitable translation of the Quechua/Spanish huaquero, and preferred ‘commercial archaeologist’ to ‘grave-robber’. Archaeologist Frederick Lange revisited Costa Rica in 1976, and referred to ‘subsistence archaeologists’. In 1993, David Staley reported on what he termed the ‘subsistence diggers’ of St Lawrence Island, defining a ‘subsistence digger’ as ‘a person who uses the proceeds from artifact sales to support his or her traditional subsistence lifestyle’, suggesting at the time that sales of excavated artifacts constituted 13% of average household income.

Subsistence looting in Mali?

Please read ‘Looting, the subsistence digging economy in Mali; and stemming the flow of looted antiquities from Mali to the USA’, and informative post about subsistence digging in Mali by Dr Sam Hardy. Available here on his Conflict Antiquities blog.

In the next step we will discuss this article and ask the question “Is it ever ethical to pillage archaeological sites?”

© University of Glasgow
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Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime

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