There have been several news stories lately about looted items being returned to Iraq, as well as many reports on the scale of destruction to archaeological sites by looters. This brings up an interesting question. Why/how are these things still on the market? Everyday things like cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals are routinely bought and sold with little or no provenance. Who would touch these things with a 10 foot pole?
The sad truth is, these things are still on the market because there are still collectors willing to buy them without asking where they came from or how they were obtained. Why? Does our desire to own something from a lost civilization really override logic when we see an object like this that's described as "found in granny's attic" or "from an old French collection" or worse yet, no hint of a provenance at all?
Although it seems to be the most publicized, looting is not just a problem in Iraq, The ICE website (here) has a list of investigations where items from all over the world were seized by investigators because they were either stolen or looted. Now more than ever we should be using due diligence and asking the tough questions of sellers when we see an item we want, and a reputable seller should willingly provide that information. If we can't get clear answers, with documented proof, then we should walk away from the sale.