Archaeological inventories are widely recognized as a crucial first step in safeguarding ancient sites and antiquities. The International Council of Museums calls such databases “a vital weapon in the fight against the illicit trade.” The need comes down to this: in order to know what has been lost — and protect what remains — countries, collections, and storage facilities must first know what they have.
While inventories are crucial to recovering antiquities lost to cultural racketeering, they protect cultural heritage from more than just looting and theft. No museum or storage facility in the world is one hundred percent safe one hundred percent of the time. So when suddenly faced with an emergency — such as the political upheaval in Egypt, the rise of the so-called “Islamic State” in Iraq and Syria, or a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans — the safety of their collections may be put into severe jeopardy. In the worst case scenario, if these objects are damaged or even destroyed, inventories ensure that our knowledge and understanding about them is not.
In short, archaeological inventories serve the purposes of security and scholarship, while providing future opportunities for development. They are thus a key focus of our efforts at the Antiquities Coalition.