National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Tess Davis

Affiliation: The Antiquities Coalition

Tess Davis, a lawyer and archaeologist by training, is Executive Director of The Antiquities Coalition. Davis oversees the organization’s work to fight cultural racketeering worldwide, as well as its award-winning think tank in Washington. She has been a legal consultant for the US and foreign governments and works with both the art world and law enforcement to keep looted antiquities off the market. She writes and speaks widely on these issues — having been published in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, Foreign Policy, and top scholarly journals — and featured in documentaries in America and Europe. She is admitted to the New York State Bar, teaches cultural heritage law at Johns Hopkins University, and is a Term Member of the Council on Foreign Relations. 

In 2015, the Royal Government of Cambodia knighted Davis for her work to recover the country’s plundered treasures, awarding her the rank of Commander in the Royal Order of the Sahametrei.  


As long as there have been tombs, there have been tomb raiders. However, in the modern world, this destruction is taking place on a scale never before seen in history, driven by a multi-billion dollar demand for art and antiquities. Nor are the looters the only ones to profit:  by purchasing a Maya vase, Cambodian statue, or cuneiform tablet, collectors may be unknowingly putting money into the pockets of drug cartels, jungle rebels, or even terrorists. Join Tess Davis and explore the cultural racketeering crisis, as well as how governments, law enforcement, and regular citizens are fighting back.

The looting and trafficking of “blood antiquities’’ by ISIS prompted an international outcry, but the threat posed by the illicit trade goes far beyond Iraq and Syria. Ongoing U.S. investigations and prosecutions have sounded the alarm that tomb raiders and art smugglers are actively targeting the rich cultural heritage of Asia. Join Tess Davis for a brief talk about recent scandals involving stolen Asian art on the American art market—and how governments, law enforcement, and regular citizens are fighting back.  During this event there will be ample time to ask questions.

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