Endangered cultural heritage

There is extensive illicit trafficking of cultural artefacts worldwide. Looting, theft, smuggling and destruction of cultural heritage are the consequences of people and institutions trading in and collecting cultural artefacts. At the National Museums of World Culture, we have been commissioned by the Government of Sweden to call attention to, contribute knowledge on and protect our common endangered cultural heritage. The work on Endangered Cultural Heritage is done in cooperation with the Swedish National Commission for UNESCO, the International Council of Museums Sweden and the Swedish National Heritage Board.

A Buddha statue without its head

Illicit trafficking of cultural artefacts ruins our possibility of learning about the past and denies us our shared cultural heritage. It contributes to supporting terrorism and criminal activities.

Just like ivory and crocodile skins, old cultural artefacts are often protected by national and international laws and conventions. Sales and exports are often illegal without a licence. Such licences can also be forged, as can the artefacts themselves. In impoverished parts of the world, illicit trafficking becomes a way of making a living. In areas affected by war and terrorism, illicit trafficking contributes to financing continued abuses. But this global problem is also prevalent in Sweden. Ultimately, as long as there are buyers (both individuals and institutions) who want to collect cultural artefacts, there will be a market. Today, a large part of this trafficking takes place online.

While this trafficking is happening, there are people working to defend culture – on-site, around the world – sometimes putting their life on the line. The loss of our shared cultural heritage is a reality


Contact us if you have any questions or suggestions regarding activities; title your email “Endangered cultural heritage”.

Contact us

If you suspect that an object has been illegally imported or stolen, contact the police.

About Endangered cultural heritage

The National Museums of World Culture are a national authority with the mission of ensuring that people, museums and other actors around the world collaborate to bring an end to the illicit trafficking and destruction of cultural heritage. The organisations behind the Endangered Cultural Heritage efforts are the National Museums of World Culture, the Swedish National Commission for UNESCO, the International Council of Museums Sweden and the Swedish National Heritage Board. This website provides information, links and suggestions on things you can do to make a difference.

Protecting cultural heritage today is essential for building peace tomorrow Unesco