Moral guidelines for archaeology

New rules and guidelines for archaeologists around the world.



In support of the bill which he is putting before the Italian Parliament (see flanking article), Senator Covatta has cited the document drawn up at the XIII Congress of Classical Archaeology in Berlin in 1988. This is essentially a set of moral guidelines for the behaviour of archaeologists and museums from the countries that, historically, are acquirers, because they are poor in, or lacking, an ancient heritage.

The document’s underlying tenet is that any item held in an art or cultural history museum is as important as a historical record as it is as the object of aesthetic admiration. The most worthwhile way of revealing the historic meaning of a piece is to know in detail how it was found, therefore everything which contributes directly or indirectly to the loss of this information is intolerable, while everything which favours it should be encouraged.

While the document does not address the problem of the ineffectiveness of the laws guarding the cultural heritage in the source countries such as Greece, Italy, Turkey or Egypt, it does come down heavily in favour of cultural exchanges. Professor Heilmeyer, Director of the Antikenmuseum in Berlin, who was closely involved in the drafting of this document, says that it is the logical extension of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (to which Italy is a signatory), and in particular of its Article 2(i): “The States Parties to this Convention recognise that the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property is one of the main causes of the impoverishment of the cultural heritage of the countries of origin of such property [our italics] and that international co-operation constitutes one of the most efficient means of protecting each country’s cultural property against all the dangers resulting therefrom.”

Extract from the Proceedings of the Berlin 1988 International Congress of classical archaeology

•The international exchange of loans should be encouraged, subject always to the constraints imposed by conservation requirements:

a) for short-term exhibitions intended to reconstruct the historical context of objects of artistic and cultural interest;

b) for long-term display in museums that comply with international standards.

• This kind of cultural assistance must be practised in a spirit of mutual collaboration and under strict scientific control. Collaboration includes all kinds of cultural exchange together with scientific or practical accomplishments. Information concerning loans should be published within a reasonable time.

• The responsible authorities in Museums, Administrations, Local Authorities and Governments are hereby requested to promote cultural exchange of this kind in every possible way, and to publish the policies of acquisitions and loans.