The Pacific Asia Museum was closed today, as were the LA County Museum of Art and other area art institutions. The New York Times said these museums (major ones) were raided by Federal agents looking for Southeast Asian antiquities thought to have been obtained illegally (i.e., looted) and smuggled into the U.S. in an alleged donation scheme that involved defrauding the IRS.
It was noon when I got to the museum. A few agents stood shivering outside. They were friendly, but didn't say much except the museum was closed for the investigation.
"Western" looting of "eastern" artifacts isn't new. Think of LA's Getty Musem and New York's Metropolitan Museum, both of which have recently been caught with the goods and forced to return them. Hell, think of the Elgin Marbles (which won't likely be returning to Greece any time soon). What's new is the crackdown.
A looted item loses its historical and archaeological context. For months now, I've been following a discussion about the importance of of provenance in Archaeology Magazine, which puts it in layman's terms I can appreciate.