I suppose cultural heritage, as it relates to material things left by cultures of the past, will always be a delicate subject. I would prefer that it wasn’t. It is entwined with, in the case of some American Indian artifacts, spiritual matters, and in the case of antiquities, research interrupted. The validity of these claims is beyond argument.
However, once an object is either smuggled from a dig site or even when it is properly catalogued and assessed, the story it has to tell is pretty much over. From that point on, it is the aesthetic merit of the object whidh is paramount. Given this, the artifact should then be set free. It should be identified for the future so that it can be re-examined if necessary and then be sold. In turn, the buying public should in turn be made more knowledgeable and enthusiastic about sites that need security and be encouraged to promote the proper excavation of antiquities.
Antiquities represent all sorts of things to all sorts of people. To the current Italian magistrate that is focusing on American museum collections, it is a political moment in which he can make hay. But that hay is valueless compared to the proper excavation and protection of sites. The cloud of mystery that surrounds antiquities should be lifted and smuggling and stealing should be recognized as such. What really needs addressing is why these two activities are so successful.