Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Criminal Justice


Jana Arsovska

Committee Members

Rosemary Barberet

Roddrick Colvin

Subject Categories



tombaroli, Italy, archaeological looting, illicit antiquities, organized crime


Looters (in Italian, tombaroli), whether underground or underwater, have preyed on the Italian archaeology for centuries. The literature on both archaeological looting and, more specifically, the Italian case, has been widely developed by other disciplines, mostly archaeology. In spite of this body of literature, the number of studies discussing issues related to tombaroli is minimal, and the criminological contribution is nonexistent. After examining important gaps in the literature, this study explains the nature of the relationship between tombaroli and organized crime and how organized criminals learn and adapt during their careers. These topics have been both misrepresented and sporadically dealt with in the existing literature. Drawing on a multidisciplinary body of literature on Italian archaeological looting and interviews with looters, law enforcement officials, archeologists, prosecutors, journalists, criminologists, and authors, this study demonstrates that although Italian archaeological looting is a crime that is organized, it is not a problem of organized crime. In fact, its relationship to traditional Italian criminal organizations seems sporadic and anecdotal at best. Looting, an eminently group activity, is mostly perpetrated in teams, who perfectly fit the definition, albeit simply, of organizations. As such, tombaroli can learn as a whole group from the interactions among their members and adapt to the actions of law enforcement and other challenges. Through practice, tombaroli acquire and orally share a great deal of practical knowledge; this is different from the scientific knowledge of archaeologists. Tombaroli change their ways of committing their crimes and learn new modus operandi, such as changing their timing when offending, adapting their work to rural areas, changing how they store and transport looted antiquities, and adopting new technologies. This study includes an historical analysis of Italian archaeological looting across centuries. This research project might interest law enforcement agencies, policymakers, archaeologists, NGOs, civil society and scholars. Because it offers in-depth insights about tombaroli, one of the most important risks archaeologists have to face in order to protect their future discoveries, it is expected that this study and its recommendations might potentially have significance in several fields such as archaeology, criminology, and policing.

Included in

Criminology Commons