Methodology

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Methodology

The initial MOLA dataset covers 860 global repatriation cases dating from 1950 to today, and includes nearly 1 million total returned objects. At launch, we're displaying 100 repatriation cases of objects from around the world. 

We define “looted antiquities” broadly, to include objects that were illegally excavated, taken during colonial conflicts, stolen from documented collections, or removed without permission from Indigenous communities. The majority are ancient objects, but we also include ethnographic and other cultural goods that may be far younger. What they all have in common is that they were taken without the owner’s permission, trafficked and eventually returned. 

For each repatriation case, we’re collecting data on more than three dozen fields. They range from details on the returned object to the pathway it took through the market and the reason for its repatriation. (See our Contribute page for a complete list of data fields.)

This data include details on active criminal networks – including the names of alleged looters, smugglers and traffickers who haven’t been charged with or convicted of crimes. Because of this, much of the data we collect will not be released publicly but is available for study by visiting scholars and curators.

We’re primarily relying upon open-source data: information from court records, media reports, academic studies and other sources available online in a variety of languages, all of which are cited as sources. We have also built a digital document repository of primary source records and non-public information, which we cite as documents with controlled access.

We intend to update the dataset regularly as new returns occur and older repatriation cases are discovered. Due to missing data and the increasing frequency of repatriations, the data are – and likely always will be ­– incomplete. As such, the trends captured in the data analysis reflect only the information we have documented.

When describing and displaying culturally sensitive material – such as human remains and sacred objects – we have endeavored to respect the desires of living descendants and the sovereignty and cultural protocols of those communities. As a result, in some cases we omit direct photophraphs of repatriated objects. 

Finally, the current dataset reflects the interests and biases of its primary collector, Jason Felch, and so more thoroughly covers repatriations from North American collections that were the result of contemporary antiquities trafficking. Over time, we’ll build our depth in repatriations from other regions, historical repatriations of colonial spoils and returns to Indigenous communities – all areas of growing activity.

 

Methodology