In a Nov. 9 letter, Peter Tompka wrote in favor of the British system of rewarding the finders of antiquities. Most finds, in fact, aren't rewarded -- only those of precious metals. Finds do, however, remain the property of the landowner and may be sold. The obligation to report finds is voluntary.

Mr. Tompka referred to the Hoxne Treasure but omitted such famous finds as the Icklingham Bronzes, which were illegally excavated and smuggled out of the United Kingdom and now are owned by an American collector. Other major finds have gone the same way. Unfortunately, illegally excavated and smuggled antiquities are not usually discussed openly, so it is difficult to know how large a smuggled iceberg lies under the Icklingham tip.

The reporting of finds is a system that allows the reporting of destruction. It does not protect the archaeological heritage.

Italy's antiquities laws may have been passed in dark times, but today they conform to the international norm, unlike those of the United Kingdom. At a recent conference held to discuss these issues, delegate after delegate from around the world expressed amazement at the British system, which allows the private excavation of antiquities and which, in the words of one participant, condones systematic looting.


Cambridge, England

The writer is a research director at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.