Nancy Bookidis and Charles K. Williams, II— 2002 Outstanding Public Service Award

Award Citation:

The Archaeological Institute of America is pleased to recognize Nancy Bookidis and Charles K. Williams, II, with the Award for Outstanding Public Service for their important roles in the successful recovery and repatriation of archaeological material stolen from Greece.

On April 12, 1990, thieves broke into the archaeological museum of ancient Corinth and made off with nearly 300 objects, assaulting the night guard, and stealing the museum’s payroll. The theft, the largest ever from a Greek museum, was widely publicized in the press and in a special 1990 issue of IFAReports (Vol. 11:6). Although several of the objects were recovered from a New York antiquities gallery in 1998, it was not until the fall of 1999 that Greek and American authorities were able to make a major breakthrough in the case.  On September 7, 1999, FBI agents working in collaboration with Greek police officials recovered the majority of the Corinth antiquities in a Miami storage facility. Three Roman portrait heads were later found in a New York auction house. In January of 2001, 274 of the artifacts were repatriated to Greece from the United States.

The successful recovery of the stolen Corinthian artifacts was clearly a model of international cooperation between Greek and American law enforcement agencies and archaeological authorities.  Many individual archaeologists also played an important role in this effort, including those who worked anonymously for many years to keep the memory of the theft alive in the public consciousness. In particular, Nancy Bookidis and Charles K. Williams, II, long-time assistant director and director of the Corinth excavations of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, took immediate steps in 1990 to provide the Greek Ministry of Culture and Interpol with complete descriptions and photographs of the stolen objects for distribution to law enforcement agencies, museums, galleries, and private collectors. For nearly a decade after the theft, Bookidis and Williams diligently continued to write articles for popular journals about the stolen artifacts, and to keep a sharp watch for any Corinthian material appearing on the art market. After the majority of the stolen material had been recovered in the Miami warehouse, Williams recognized one of the still missing artifacts, a marble head of the god Serapis, in an auction catalogue in New York.  As a result of this information, the last three portrait heads were eventually recovered.

The prompt and diligent actions of Bookidis and Williams embody the very spirit of the AIA Code of Professional Responsibilities. Among the special responsibilities of archaeologists, the Code states that they  “should anticipate and provide for adequate and accessible long-term storage and curatorial facilities for all archaeological materials, records, and archives” and that they “should treat others at home and in the field with respect and sensitivity. As primary stewards of the archaeological record, they should work actively to preserve that record in all its dimensions and for the long term; and they should give due consideration to the interests of others, both colleagues and the lay public, who are affected by the research.”  By demonstrating the importance of detailed and accessible archives, by actively striving to meet the legal criterion of due diligence in the recovery of stolen artifacts, and by educating the public about the illicit trade in antiquities, Bookidis and Williams have truly set new standards for future generations of archaeologists.

For their extraordinary efforts to conserve, preserve, and protect the cultural heritage of the country in which they work, their selfless cooperation with Greek law enforcement authorities and archaeological colleagues, and their efforts to inform the public of the importance of context in archaeological research, the Archaeological Institute of America is proud to honor Nancy Bookidis and Charles K. Williams, II, with this Outstanding Public Service Award.

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