The ruin of the Maya heartland: successes, failures, and consequences of four decades of antiquities trafficking regulation

Author(s): Donna Yates

Year: 2015


For 40 years the trafficking of Maya antiquities has been at the forefront of debate over the most effective way to discourage the illicit antiquities trade. Images of mutilated Maya stela and jungle-covered temples pitted by looters' trenches epitomize the effects of the global demand for looted artifacts. National and international measures have been introduced to protect Maya sites on the ground, prevent looted artefacts from crossing borders, or effect the repatriation of stolen cultural property. Each of these measures has had successes, failures, and unforeseen consequences.

I will discuss the on-the-ground effects of attempts to control the trade in Maya antiquities since 1970, particularly the contrasting effects of national and international regulation introduced outside of the UNESCO convention and regulation introduced under the convention framework. A move away from object-specific import restrictions towards country-specific bilateral agreements and repatriation has not substantially contributed to the on-the-ground security of Maya archaeological sites or to the prosecution of antiquities traffickers. By approaching antiquities trafficking as a criminal enterprise that is separate from other illicit activities and by attempting to control the the flow of looted cultural property without addressing underlying structural failures (e.g. insecurity, poverty, conflict), current international regulation is inadequate.

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Cite this Record

The ruin of the Maya heartland: successes, failures, and consequences of four decades of antiquities trafficking regulation. Donna Yates. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395969)


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Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;