Science: Epidemic of Grave Robbing

Plundering pre-Columbian art

Deep in Guatemala's Petén rain forest, five men dig into a curious mound in the earth. They suspect that an ancient tomb lies somewhere beneath it, and before long, their hunch is confirmed. Just below the surface, they uncover a huge limestone slab, or stela, inscribed with Mayan symbols. A little deeper they find the tomb, filled with jade and alabaster jewelry, brilliantly colored ceramic platters and other priceless antiquities created by Mayan craftsmen long before Columbus reached the shores of the New World.

When such ancient treasures are discovered in Guatemala and many other Latin American nations, they legally...

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