The Clayton Museum of Ancient History in York, Nebraska, has a problem that all of us need to be aware of. That museum houses Foster Standback’s collections of ancient artifacts from Palestine and the Roman world from the time of Jesus.
The problem is that there is a huge market for ancient things that can bring massive profits to those who sell them. This has resulted in looting, black market selling, the making of fakes, and damage to archaeological sites. UNESCO is the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In 1970 UNESCO established a Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. In 1972 the nations of the world agreed not to trade in illicit cultural heritage objects.
The reason for this agreement is not only to stop criminal acts but also to keep ancient artifacts in their context. Once the archaeological context of an object is lost, it is worth far less academically, as it can no longer tell us anything about the people who made it. The goal is to allow scholars to gain as much information as they can about the objects in their context. The archaeological evidence can contribute to our understanding of the past.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to enforce an agreement between the nations of the world to anything. There are organizations such as The Museum of the Bible that buy artifacts from black-market dealers claiming to be trying to preserve the objects. A good general rule is that if you see an ad for ancient artifacts from the time of Christ, especially things of religious significance, do not purchase them. It is not only illegal, but it is highly likely you are paying a lot of money for something that is fraudulent.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2018, page 6.