January 27, 2022

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Lesson of the Day: ‘He Sold Away His People’s Heritage. He’s in the Jungle to Get It Back.’

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Featured Article: “He Sold Away His People’s Heritage. He’s in the Jungle to Get It Back.” Tom Mashberg

Toek Tik, a former Cambodian temple looter, was a teenage foot soldier for the genocidal Khmer Rouge who started looting ancient artifacts when he realized what a lucrative trade it was. Now, he is helping the Cambodian government identify and reclaim the artifacts he stole many years ago.

In this lesson, you will learn about Toek Tik’s past as a looter and how his testimony has helped Cambodian officials locate stolen artifacts. Then, you will debate this question: Should museums return looted artifacts to their countries of origin?

Watch this video from 2014 about efforts to identify stolen Cambodian artifacts and pressure collectors — in this case Sotheby’s, the auction house in Manhattan — to stop the sale of a looted artifact.

  • What is your reaction to the story relayed in the video? Do you agree with the action Sotheby’s eventually took?

  • What is one thing you learned about the process of identifying and returning stolen artifacts?

Now, complete this Country of the Week quiz to learn more about Cambodia before reading the featured article.

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. According to Toek Tik, how did he first become involved in looting? Over the years, what happened to the artifacts that Toek Tik stole and sold?

2. Since Toek Tik gave his testimony, what has the Cambodian government been doing to address the problem of looting? How have individual collectors and museums responded to the requests from the Cambodian government?

3. What role did Douglas A.J. Latchford play in the looting of Cambodian artifacts? How had he been regarded in Cambodia before his role in trafficking antiquities was revealed?

4. How did investigators and archaeologists come to trust Toek Tik over time?

5. How does Toek Tik feel now about his past involvement in the crimes? What caused him to stop looting? Why did he decide to come forward to help?

6. What was significant about the second excavations at the site of “Skanda on a Peacock” and “Skanda and Shiva”? How did this revelation contribute to Toek Tik’s credibility?

Discuss the following questions with your classmates, or explore the prompts in your journal:

  • What is your reaction to the article? Do you think Toek Tik has redeemed himself? Or do you think he waited too long?

  • What responsibility do you think museums and private art collectors have to return the stolen artifacts that Toek Tik has helped to identify? For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has 45 ancient artifacts that Cambodian officials say were looted before being donated or sold to the museum. Should the Met return those artifacts?

  • Last year, we asked students: Should museums return looted artifacts to their countries of origin? Now we want to know: What do you think? You can read what other students wrote, and then submit your own comment.


Want more Lessons of the Day? You can find them all here.

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