New Standards On Collecting Of Archaeological Material, Ancient Art

Ruzan Haruriunyan's picture

The American Association of Museums (AAM) today announced the establishment of standards regarding museum acquisition of archaeological material and ancient art that emphasize proper provenance of such objects and complete transparency on the part of the acquiring institutions.

The product of two years of concerted research and vetting from the museum field, Standards Regarding Archaeological Material and Ancient Art provides clear ethical guidance on collecting such material so as to discourage illicit excavation of archaeological sites or monuments. Crafted by the specially created AAM Task Force on Cultural Property the standards were approved by the AAM Board of Directors at its July meeting in Minneapolis. The complete document can be found at (insert link).

“The museum community is deeply concerned about international looting of cultural materials and the resulting destruction of sites and information,” said Ford W. Bell, AAM president. “These standards will help U.S. museums shape their policies and practices to effectively promote the preservation of our common cultural patrimony.”

The new Standards require museums to have a publicly available collections policy setting out the institution's standards for provenance — that is, history of ownership — concerning new acquisitions of archaeological material and ancient art. According to the Standards, museums should also make publically available the known ownership history of all such objects in their collections. Finally, the Standards recommend November 17, 1970, the date on which the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property was signed, as the minimum date to which museums should require a documented provenance for future acquisitions.

Created by the AAM Board in July 2006, the Task Force included Board members as well as additional professionals with particular expertise in cultural property law, collections management, archaeology, and stewardship of sensitive cultural items. These Standards, which identify the issues museums need to address as they refine their own acquisitions policies, are the result.

“The American people rely on museums to preserve and interpret the world’s cultural heritage,” Bell said. “In recent years, however, the public has come to expect that museums, through their collecting activities, do not contribute to the illicit trade in cultural property. Abiding by these standards will ensure that museums are acting legally, ethically and morally.”

Given AAM’s role as the representative organization for the entire field, the AAM Standards apply to all types of museums, including art, history, natural history, zoos and aquariums. --

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