The Oct. 18 editorial "Stemming the Antiquities Flow" about Italy's concern for its cultural heritage did not make the point that Italy's problem with looting stems as much from its unfair antiquities law as it does from greed.

When a country makes any artifact excavated after 1901 state property, landowners are turned into criminals if they want to retain or sell any old object--no matter how common--found on their land rather than turn it over to the government. In this, Italy differs from Great Britain, which requires reporting of finds, but which pays its citizens fair value for any metal artifacts the government wants to retain that are found on private property. Not surprisingly, while Italian authorities complain about loss of valuable archeological resources, British authorities are recording ancient hoards such as the Hoxne Treasure of coins and silver plate valued at 1.75 million pounds.

The editorial also glosses over the significance of the 1939 date of Italy's antiquities law. The law is a product of dark times, reflecting the "state encompasses all" philosophy of the Mussolini regime. It no doubt would be struck down as unconstitutional if it had been enacted in this country. This should make U.S. policymakers particularly cautious in their review of the particulars of Italy's broad request for import restrictions on a variety of ancient artifacts, including ones as common as ancient coins.

PETER K. TOMPA

Washington