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Archaeological Loans to North American Museums

I have written about the loan of archaeological material to North American museums before. I have had cause to contact the director of a major east coast museum this week to ask about the collecting history of a particular piece.

This gives me the opportunity to remind readers of the AAMD's position on archaeological loans. These can be found in "Report of the AAMD Subcommittee on Incoming Loans of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art" (February 27, 2006) [link].

A number of "Statement of Principles" are made:
I.B. AAMD recognizes that decisions relating to loans of archaeological materials and ancient art can be legally and ethically complex, and require weighing a number of legitimate, and sometimes competing, interests and priorities.

I.C. AAMD deplores the illicit and unscientific excavation of archaeological materials and ancient art from archaeological sites, the destruction or defacing of ancient monuments, and the theft of works of art from individuals, museums, or other repositories.

I.D. AAMD is committed to the principle that all borrowing be done according to the highest standards of ethical and professional practice. These Guidelines reinforce the need for transparency in the loan process and due diligence in researching proposed loans.

I.E. AAMD supports the open exchange of information among researchers and institutions as they collaborate on loans, exhibitions and other scholarly projects. Through this process, the most complete, accurate and useful information about works of art becomes available to a broad public.

I am particularly struck that the AAMD recongises that as objects are displayed this may stimulate further research and allow a more full collecting history to be reconstructed.

I.G. AAMD recognizes that archaeological material and works of ancient art for which provenance information is incomplete or unobtainable may deserve to be publicly displayed, conserved, studied, and published because of their rarity, historical importance, and aesthetic merit. Importantly, in addition to inspiring fresh scholarship, the display of such works in public museums may serve to facilitate the discovery of further information regarding their ownership and provenance history.

The AAMD speciaifcally used 1970 as a benchmark for loans:

In recognition of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, adopted in November 1970, member museums should not borrow any archaeological material or works of ancient art known to have been “stolen from a museum, or a religious, or secular public monument or similar institution” (Convention, Article 7b) after November 1970. In addition, member museums should not borrow any archaeological material or works of ancient art known to have been part of an official archaeological excavation and to have been removed after November 1970 in contravention of the laws of the country of origin.
Member museums should abide by the preceding paragraph regardless of any applicable statutes of limitation and notwithstanding the fact that the U.S. did not ratify the Convention until 1983.

In a section on "Due diligence and research" the guidelines state:
In the course of considering possible loans of archaeological material and ancient art, member museums should inquire into their provenance history, seeking to obtain all relevant information from the lender, and an appropriate warranty of their legal ownership of the work. In some cases, the museum may decide that it is responsible and prudent to make further inquiries from other possible sources of information and/or databases.

The AAMD accepts that collecting histories may be incomplete and makes allowance for this:
Even after rigorous research, it may not be possible to obtain complete and/or independently verifiable information on the relevant provenance history of a proposed loan. AAMD recognizes that the exhibition of such a work in a public institution dedicated to the display, conservation, study, and interpretation of works of art may best serve the interests of the object, the culture it represents and the public. In particular, this may be the case where such public exhibition makes possible important advances in scholarship and/or facilitates the emergence of new information on the ownership and provenance history of the work.

Long-term loans are treated in a different way:
Potential long-term loans (i.e. loans not part of visiting exhibitions) with incomplete relevant provenance histories should be evaluated under criteria comparable to those for acquisitions (see 2004 Report, Section II, E).

The 2004 "Report of the AAMD Task Force on the Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art" states [pdf]:
Even after rigorous research, it may not be possible to obtain sufficient information on the recent history of a proposed acquisition to determine securely whether the acquisition would comply with applicable law and the aforementioned Guidelines. In such cases, museums must use their professional judgment in determining whether to proceed with the acquisition, in accordance with the Statement of Principles above, recognizing that the work of art, the culture it represents, scholarship, and the public may be served best through the acquisition of the work of art by a public institution dedicated to the conservation, exhibition, study, and interpretation of works of art.
Head from Roman marble statuette. The Schinoussa Archive.

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