(Polizeistation Usingen, Germany)
Illicit excavation is not a new problem. However, the situation has become worse in recent years. This has become especially clear in the new states since German reunification, when treasure hunters and metal detectorists realized that ancient monuments located there were relatively untouched in comparison to those in the older states.
In addition to violation of monument protection laws, other criminal offences are regularly committed: willful damage to property, trespass, theft, embezzlement, receiving stolen goods and fraud. As a result of talks between the police, monument preservation authorities and the ministry of the interior, the “AG Raubgrabung” (Task Force Illicit Excavation) was established at the beginning of 2003. In addition to its mainly preventive activities, the Task Force has also begun to provide support for criminal proceedings against a number of persons suspected of looting or illicitly receiving antiquities.
The findings of the Task Force mirror a too-familiar situation: unscrupulous (repeat-) culprits on one side, archaeologists and museums on the other. The latter see themselves as caught between the desire to record finds and the need to condemn illicit excavation; they are inevitably (and, in part, irresponsibly) drawn into a dangerous grey area verging on illegality. Equally problematic are the acts of the antiquities trade, in that assertions regarding the provenance of objects and correct rights of ownership are all too quickly accepted. But even the innocent purchase has its limits. Since the mid-80’s, Hessian looters and their fences have achieved a turn-over of approximately 1.4 million Euros.
And the future? Cooperation between police and monument protection agencies provides some hope. Even so, obstacles exist that make it difficult to combat illegal looting and its various manifestations – both nationally and internationally. We must work together to overcome them, since no single entity can succeed on its own.