Is looting-to-order ‘just a myth’? Open-source analysis of theft-to-order of cultural property.

Last year, underwater archaeologist Peter Campbell and I blogged about evidence of antiquities looting to order. Over the year, I’ve conducted further research (on which Peter has kindly commented), and I’ve now published an open-source analysis of theft-to-order in (open access) Cogent Social Sciences.

I believe that it is (not the but nonetheless) a standard business model, which has been documented in at least 43 countries, which span South America, North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. Notably, it is used in online trafficking of stolen cultural goods by organised criminals and trafficking by armed groups and repressive regimes (conflict antiquities trafficking).


Looting-to-order or theft-to-order of cultural assets has been widely dismissed as a myth. To test that, an open-source analysis of cases and testimony from law enforcement agents, perpetrators of cultural property crime and cultural heritage professionals was conducted.
Web searches were conducted for reports that addressed looting, stealing or theft of cultural property on commission or to order; for material that discussed looters, robbers or thieves who had been contracted, employed, hired or paid to extract antiquities; and for academic publications that discussed “looting to order”, “theft to order” or any commodity “stolen to order”.
Source-end employment/contracting that did not demonstrate a direct connection to market-end purchase and other cases that might have constituted “stealing to offer” were excluded, as were implicit and complicit orders that did not establish a contractual relationship.
The analysis found historic and global evidence of commissioned theft of cultural property. It also found evidence that theft-to-order was a significant problem in some places and had served as a structure for conflict antiquities trading in Argentina, Cambodia and Syria. Since it is an exceptionally challenging form of an already difficult-to-police crime, the evidence of theft-to-order reinforces demands for increased market regulation through export and import licensing.


conflict antiquities trade; cybercrime; illicit antiquities trade; open-source analysis; organised crime; property crime; theft to order


Hardy, S A. 2015: “Is looting-to-order ‘just a myth’? Open-source analysis of theft-to-order of cultural property.” Cogent Social Sciences, Volume 1. Available at:


One Comment to “Is looting-to-order ‘just a myth’? Open-source analysis of theft-to-order of cultural property.”

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