The Institute of Archaeology launched its Anti-looting Campaign this year. It is an education initiative that needs to spread country wide and possibly global as well, with lectures and posters done to get the message across. Yet the question may arise, what is looting, what can be done, and what is the law behind it?
Looting is the removal of cultural material or antiquities outside of the country of origin. In most cases the pieces removed end up for sale on the black market. What constitutes an antiquity? An antiquity is any artifact or portable cultural material left behind from ancient civilizations such as the Maya, and other early historic people, that are over one hundred years old.
Along with looting comes the destruction of ancient monuments. A monument is any old building, erections or other non-portable objects left behind by ancient civilizations such as the Maya or other historic people such as the colonizers of Belize. Legally, any building over one hundred years is considered a monument. Both monuments and antiquities are legally protected by law under the National Institute of Culture and History Act, Chapter 331 of the Laws of Belize, Revised Edition 2000.
What does this mean to the people of Belize? The Government of Belize, through the Institute of Archaeology, holds all ancient monuments and antiquities in trust for the people of Belize. Our monuments and antiquities cannot be owned, possessed or tampered with by any individual, entity or organization, without prior license to do so, from the Institute of Archaeology. This refers to all antiquities or monuments, regardless of whether they are situated on land, in water or even under the sea floor.
While no one can own antiquities, you can legally keep antiquities in your possession. Many people come across antiquities while clearing land for farming, even inheriting pieces from family, and would love to display these in their houses or businesses. This can be done legally by applying for a license to have a private collection. Of course this is not a license for any individual to actively go out and seek more antiquities, whether from other people, from surfaces or illegally excavating ancient Maya mounds or from historic sites.
The message of anti-looting is one that is of concern to all of us as Belizeans. Every monument, every antiquity tells its own story. Every piece can add to the story of the history of Belize. Every piece we lose is one story we may never get back. While we have international support, such as the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Belize and the US State Department, we have to do our part here.
So what is to be done if you see someone buying or selling antiquities or destroying a monument? If the police are nearest give them a call then also report it to us at the Institute of Archaeology by calling 822-2106/2227, because once antiquities and monuments are damaged, sold or destroyed, they can never be replaced.