Site hosted by Build your free website today!


Statement about looting by the University of Pennsylvania Museum for the Maya Weekend Meeting.

The worldwide looting of archaeological sites is a complex problem without any easy solutions. In an early effort to address this issue the University of Pennsylvania Museum adopted "The Pennsylvania Declaration" in April, 1970, which stated that no object would be purchased unless accompanied by information as to ownership history, place of origin, legality of export and similar data. Later that same year, the Museum was the first American institution to sign the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The Museum, along with many others, has worked diligently for the past quarter century in a continuing effort to resolve this dilemma.

The vast majority of professional archaeologists support the viewpoint of Convention regulations as well as the guidelines subsequently specified by the American Anthropological Association, Archaeological Institute of America, and the Society for American Archaeology, including the prohibition against the illegal purchasing, selling or collecting of antiquities. At the same time, it is difficult for archaeologists to avoid contact with what is often termed "unprovenienced" artifacts. This category includes objects in both private and museum collections without any clear information about their origins and legal status. Such objects may include artifacts that are illegally excavated and removed from their country of origin, artifacts with unclear legal status, or even artifacts with at least some documentation of their origins and/or legal status.

In contrast, provenienced artifacts are those that were excavated with a record as to their location and associations when found. By the usual standards of scientific inquiry, we can reasonably assume that these artifacts are what they seem: legitimate evidence from the past subject to scientific interpretation. It must be noted that sometimes even provenienced artifacts offer distorted information, as when they are inaccurately restored.

Because the "unprovenienced" category also includes artifacts that have been altered by restoration or, far worse, objects that are complete forgeries, it is only prudent for scholars to know whether or not information being presented is based on artifacts with legitimate documentation of their provenience, or whether they belong to the unprovenienced category. We therefore ask that all speakers at the Museum include information as to the origins of objects being discussed.

These issues are particularly critical to the Maya area, where the terrible destruction wrought by looting has generated a great deal of discussion as to how to diminish the toll. In light of this problem the organizers of the Maya Weekend would like to make clear that we stand with the policies of the AAA, AIA and SAA and our sponsoring institution, the University of Pennsylvania Museum, in their unequivocal opposition to looting and commercial transactions involving antiquities, and to collecting by scholarly professionals. We ask that Maya Weekend talks and workshops clearly describe the objects discussed in terms of their origins (provenienced, unprovenienced, restored, etc.).

It is our belief that such emphasis will help the public become more aware of the damaging results of such illicit activities, and lead to more enlightened and enforceable legislation. Only through education and a wide understanding of the ways in which this destruction diminishes our common human heritage can we hope to identify and preserve the archaeological record for our descendants.