Introduction - General outline and aim of the module

This module about looting and the consumption of loot proceeds as follows. It begins with a presentation of a rough sketch of looting and the linked trade to give an indication of the pace of the destruction of archaeological sites generated by market demand. It then briefly attempts to discuss what motivates the looter and the collector and tries to put looting and collecting into a broader societal context of local and global power relations. Finally, it examines some of the cultural heritage professionals’ responsibilities in relation to the ongoing trade. In this part it will first give some examples of how museums and scholars have been involved in activities which has served to legitimise the trade in unprovenanced archaeological objects. Secondly, it will discuss how cultural heritage professionals in a more general way may support the trade through their participation in the social construction of such concepts as “art” and “heritage”. It will be argued that the contemporary mainstream social production of these (seemingly innocent) concepts serves to endorse a privileged perspective and creates amnesia about past – and also contemporary – social inequality and exploitation.

Hopefully, the text will lead to reflection, not only on the responsibilities of the cultural heritage professional concerning looting and the trade in loot as such, but also on broader issues relating to how a cultural heritage professional’s own (privileged) position within society affects the knowledge about the past – and the present – which she or he produces. Thus the text wants to contribute to the debate about the relationship between the social construction of the cultural heritage professional and the social construction of cultural heritage.