Archaeological looting is the illicit removal of artefacts from an archaeological site. Such looting is the major source of artefacts for the antiquities market. Looting has been linked to the economic and political stability of the possessing nation, with levels of looting increasing during times of crisis. However, looting is also endemic in so-called "archaeological countries" like Italy, Greece, Turkey, Sicily, Cyprus and other areas of the Mediterranean Basin, as well as many areas of Africa. South East Asia and Central and South America, which have a rich heritage of archaeological sites, a large proportion of which are still unknown to formal archaeological science.
A number of recent books have chronicled the vast extent of archaeological looting in countries such as Italy, where gangs of Mafia-linked tombaroli (tomb robbers) routinely search for undiscovered Etruscan and Roman sites and loot them. Based on long-running investigations by Italian authorities, the authors have documented the extensive networks (or cordata) that coordinate the looting, smuggling, restoration and laundering of looted treasures. One of the most notorious cases of recent times was the cordata that centred on convicted Italian antiquities smuggler Giacomo Medici, whose international network received and distributed hundreds of millions of dollars worth of looted Roman, Greek and Etruscan antiquities, smuggling the objects out of their countries of origin via Switzerland, laundering them through corrupt dealers like Robert E. Hecht and Robin Symes, and compliant auction houses including Sotheby's in London, and finally selling the objects to major private collectors like Nelson Bunker Hunt and prominent museums, most notably the J. Paul Getty Museum in California and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, both of which have been forced to repatriate many priceless treasures that were found to have been looted by the Medici gang.
Archeological looting is punishable according to the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.