Our Vanishing Past

Mira Bar-Hillel investigates the increasing number of archaeological items being exported out of Britain.

There appears to be a steady stream of archaeological material leaving Britain without export licences, and the large and reputable auction houses are partly to blame. There is also a steady stream of valuable architectural items of historic interest being removed from listed buildings, especially in Central London, and then sold for very up-to- date prices in trendy shops.

Action on the first of these problems is being sought by Dr Henry Cleere, director of the Council of British Archaeology, who is personally compiling a 'catalogue of shame' with which he hopes to embarrass at least the reputable culprits into reforming their ways. Action on the theft from historic buildings has been successfully taken by Westminster Council – in the High Court. In May, two High Court judges ruled that such activities were an 'absolute' criminal offence. This means that the authorities need not prove that people taking items from listed buildings knew that they were committing an offence.

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