The exodus of cultural heritage from conflict areas and impoverished countries to wealthy countries is as much a cultural consideration as a financial or criminal one. In contrast to the quantitative side of trafficking, the social impact of stolen heritage is qualitative; it is based on the absence of physical evidence of the historical narratives that drive social cohesion and cultural legitimacy, especially in the postcolonial world. The result is “symbolic domination,” even as far as “symbolic annihilation,” through denying cultures their patrimony and whitewashing the historical narratives that are the mechanism for group identity. It has been argued that desire for other cultures’ art is tied to symbolic dominance of disadvantaged cultures, first developed in the colonial period.
Artifacts’ esteem, and therefore value, is directly linked to significance within the culture of origin, suggesting that ownership of illicit cultural items is a vestige of the colonial era tied to dominance over another’s identity. Indeed, the gentleman collector, a concept first introduced during the colonial period, is a common theme among modern collectors. In contrast, the “Good Collector” recognizes the culture behind art, promoting knowledge over aesthetics, while disparaging destruction of archaeological sites and antiquities without provenience records. Ownership of “old things” should never be discouraged, but knowingly purchasing stolen culture heritage is neither art appreciation nor the mark of a cultured individual. Rather, it is participation in organized crime and exploitation of another culture. Educating the public about the quantitative and qualitative impact of antiquities trafficking should help promote a culture change.