In the past, antiquities were appreciated more for how much money they could fetch from wealthy collectors, and little care was given to how pieces were removed or what else was damaged during the hectic digging and looting process. Today, utmost care is given to recording and preserving everything that's removed during excavation efforts. Rather than being prized for profit, artifacts are valued for what they tell us about the past and the history of human development.
They're so prized, in fact, that countries often fight over them. The problem is that many relics stolen long ago later were purchased or uncovered thousands of miles from where they were plundered. This has set up several "wars of words" between countries. For example, Egypt and Great Britain have battled for years over the Rosetta Stone, the famous stone with inscriptions in ancient Greek, demotic characters and hieroglyphics that helped Egyptologists crack the hieroglyphics code. The stone was discovered in Rosetta, Egypt, in 1799, but not by English adventurers. French soldiers found the stone, and when the French in Egypt surrendered to England in 1801, the English moved the stone to London's British Museum [source: Business Insider].
Disagreement over the terms of a 100-year-old verbal agreement concerning artifacts from Peru's Machu Picchu came to a head in 2011. Apparently, Americans credit Hiram Bingham III with discovering the ancient ruins in 1911. He returned a year later with funding from Yale University and the National Geographic Society and brought back artifacts for Yale's Peabody Museum. Bingham said that Peru's president in 1912 arranged a handshake deal for the artifacts based on the caveat that if Peru ever wanted them back, all the country had to do was ask. Peru asked -- and in 2011, Yale honored its gentlemen's agreement. Things weren't always so gentleman-like before the return of the thousands of items, however. Apparently, Peru sued the university and its current president accused the university of "global crime." Yale insisted that it had the artifacts legally, but their decision to return the artifacts could lead to repatriation claims between other countries [sources: NPR, Regalado].
Bingham was not hunting for artifacts when he landed upon Machu Picchu. He was a history lecturer at Yale, but not an archaeologist. He referred to himself as an explorer. Like Bingham, modern people still hunt for treasures for exploration's sake, or for the money they can bring, but they usually take great care to preserve artifacts. Amateur hunters might mine for gold, search for arrowheads on hikes, comb the seas for shipwrecks or simply hunt for spent Civil War bullets with metal detectors. In addition, there still is a strong black market for legitimate, important artifacts.
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