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British government warns museums not to acquire looted artefacts

After consultations in 2003, the British Government has just published their official guidelines for museums on how to avoid accidentally purchasing looted artefacts.

One of the most relevant points in the document however is its exclusions. Any item that was acquired prior to 1970, or that’s ownership can be traced back further than 1970 is effectively exempted from these guidelines (a point that must make many museums very happy.) It appears that the British Museum were one of the key institutions involved in drawing up this document, so this previous exclusion is hardly surprising.

The full advisory document (In PDF format) can be downloaded here [1].

From:
Department of Culture Media & Sport [2]

25 October 2005
‘Don’t Buy Looted Goods By Accident’ David Lammy Tells Heritage Bodies

Museums, libraries and archives must work to ensure that they do not accidentally acquire material that has been stolen or looted, Culture Minister David Lammy said today.

New Guidelines published today by the DCMS, urge cultural institutions to:

  • ask for evidence, or provenance, of the object’s history before acquiring it;
  • refuse to accept anything when there are doubts about its origins; and
  • seek expert advice when they are unsure of how to progress.

The guidelines, which are supported by the all the leading bodies in the area, follow increasing concern regarding the trade in illicit cultural property.

The most recent statistics have British legitimate art sales standing at £4.2 billion per annum. This represents around 25% share of the global market. It is impossible to assess accurately the size of the illicit trade market.

Minister for Culture, David Lammy MP, said:

“These guidelines will give museums, libraries and archives access to the advice which will ensure that they can continue to expand their wonderful collections safe in the knowledge that they are doing so legally and ethically.”

Alan Pugh, Welsh Assembly Government Culture Minister, said:

“The clear advice contained in these guidelines will help highlight this serious issue to ensure that artefacts of the highest quality are able to be enjoyed by visitors to our museums, libraries and archives.”

Maurice Davies, Deputy Director of the Museums Association, said:

“If museums and galleries follow these guidelines they will be able to avoid illicitly traded artefacts. I’m delighted that the guidelines set the standard that museums and galleries are now expected to meet.”

Chairman of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, Mark Wood, said:

“I very much welcome these guidelines. They mark a significant step in the steady progress museums, libraries and archives have been making to ensure that as collections develop and diversify, it is on the basis of the highest ethical standards. It is no longer acceptable for our public institutions to collect or borrow material which comes from an unethical source. This document gives the clear guidance which all institutions will welcome and want to implement.”

Notes to Editors

  1. The guidance is accessible here or a hard copy can be made available if you write to Owain Lloyd-James, Cultural Property Unit, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2-4 Cockspur Street, London, SW1Y 5DH.
  2. The Guidelines were drafted by a working group, under the Chairmanship of Maurice Davies, Deputy Director of the Museums Association and member of the Illicit Trade Advisory Panel. The group contained representatives from museums, libraries and archives.