According to the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, “The cache represents significant primary evidence of looting at archaeological sites in Syria and Iraq, theft from regional museums, and the stockpiling of these spoils for likely sale on the international market.”
The looted materials, which were returned to the Iraq National Museum, included coins, pottery, glass, ivory, stone, jewelry, figurines, bowls, and manuscripts. Types of objects subject to looting appear in the International Council of Museums’ (ICOM) Red Lists of antiquities at risk posted on the State Department website.
Here, collectors and dealers can view and learn to recognize the kinds of objects that have been looted from cultural sites, stolen from museums and churches, and illicitly trafficked. Syria and Iraq each have emergency Red Lists.
The significance of valuable cultural antiquities as currency to ISIL was brought into sharp relief earlier this month in Palmyra, Syria—a UNESCO World Heritage site dating to the second millennium B.C.—with the public execution of a Syrian art scholar who reportedly refused to reveal to ISIL the location of valuable antiquities.
In the U.S., meanwhile, buyers may want to consult the Red Lists and should pay special attention to an object’s origin. Buyers should ask many questions such as: Where did this come from? When did it come into the country? Does it have an export license from the country of origin?
“Check and verify provenance, importation, and other documents,” said Magness-Gardiner. “You have to be very careful when you’re buying. We don’t want to say don’t buy anything at all. There’s a lot of legitimate material circulating in the marketplace. What we’re trying to say is, don’t allow these pieces that could potentially support terrorism to be part of the trade.”