Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Dr Neil Brodie



The problems

  1.1  The trade in antiquities is clandestine and not readily amenable to public exposure. Provenances (places of origin) or ownership histories are not revealed at sales outlets and so cover is provided for the entry onto the market of material which was obtained originally by illicit means. Illicit antiquities which have been looted from archaeological sites and monuments around the world are fed secretly into the antiquities entrepots of Europe and North America. Licit and illicit material becomes hopelessly mixed and the response of dealers, when faced with this confusion of their own creation, is to consider everything licit unless proven otherwise (which if course rarely happens as dealers and auction houses refuse to reveal details of provenance...). Indirectly, therefore, the Trade encourages the looting and destruction of the world's archaeological heritage. Professional codes of ethics are rendered meaningless by this ongoing deception. The only professional code adhered to is the one of secrecy.

  1.2  The 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property and 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen and Illegally Exported Cultural Objects have been drafted specifically to combat the illicit trade in antiquities, but to date HM Government has consistently refused to ratify either one. It is difficult for those concerned to bring quantifiable arguments to bear as information pertaining to the origin of antiquities is deliberately withheld by members of the Trade who argue, without revealing their sources, that the volume of the illicit trade is in fact small, and does not justify the cost to the taxpayer of ratification. Thus those who stand to lose from ratification withhold information which has a direct bearing on Government policy, and are able to stifle any properly informed discussion of the issues involved.

  1.3  The deliberate suppression of information by the Trade also makes it difficult to mobilise public opinion against the marketing of illicit antiquities. While details of provenance are withheld a well-meaning collector cannot choose only to buy licit material, but must instead take pot-luck. This type of behaviour would not be tolerated in other areas of the retail market—used cars for instance where the provision of ownership history in the form of a logbook is standard procedure. The withholding of provenance is a disreputable practice, and one that damages the reputation of the much larger and better regulated fine art market.

  1.4  There is also increasing evidence that drugs barons and other criminals are able to take advantage of the darkness in which the international illicit trade in antiquities carries on for laundering the proceeds of their crimes. There have been several seizures in Miami in recent years of stolen or smuggled antiquities, and Miami seems to have become a centre of the illicit trade on account of the large quantities of "dirty money" in circulation there.

  1.5  London and, by extension, the United Kingdom is a major transit point for the antiquities trade. The export of antiquities is controlled and subject to licensing by the DCMS. In theory, this is one area where the hidden flows of the trade must come out into the light, to be recorded, described and quantified. However, the DCMS do not allow public access to their records, nor can it provide detailed information upon request. This report, compiled largely from secondary sources, suggests that, in addition, the operation of the licensing system is far from perfect and that there is evidence of widespread misunderstanding or evasion of its requirements.

The "Waverley Report"

  1.6  During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries of its economic predominance, the United Kingdom amassed large quantities of cultural material of all kinds and from all quarters of the globe. By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, its fortunes were on the slide, and what had, by then, come to be seen as the nation's heritage was beginning to be bought up by wealthy collectors and institutions abroad. In 1913 the Curzon Committee reported that over 500 important paintings had been lost to the nation, although it recommended that no system of export control be instituted (Maurice and Turnor 1992: 274). Subsequent calls for control in 1921 and 1922 were rejected by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and no action was taken (ibid: 274).

  1.7  The present system of export control dates back to the 1939-45 war when the Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act 1939 was enacted to prevent any flow of capital out of the country, thereby protecting the foreign exchange reserves of the United Kingdom. In 1940 antiques and works of art became subject to this control and at the end of the war it was realised that the Act could be used to stop the export of cultural material (ibid: 274). The operation of this export control was not well established however, so in 1949 a committee under the chairmanship of Viscount Waverley was appointed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to investigate means of controlling the export of works of art. Its report, known now as the "Waverley Report", was published in 1952 (Committee on the Export of Works of Art etc 1952).

  1.8  The primary objective of the Waverley Committee was to design a system of export control which would prevent the loss from the United Kingdom of what were termed "national treasures", without at the same time placing undue hindrance upon the free trade of other cultural material. "National treasures" is a term used frequently in the Waverley Report, which is focused largely on paintings and antique furniture, there is little specific mention of archaeological material. Indeed, with regard to antiquities and ethnographic material, the Report recommended that:

    Export control is an unsuitable means of safeguarding objects of this type . . . and that, if experience shows that any categories can be freed from control altogether, that step should be taken as soon as it is possible to do so. (ibid: 42)

  1.9  During its deliberations the Waverley Committee consulted widely and invited comment from a range of interested parties and expert witnesses. Only four paragraphs of the Report (which extends to over 400) were devoted exclusively to the particular problems of archaeological and ethnographical material. Although various points were made by witnesses called upon to advise the Committee only two are listed (ibid: 42):

    —  The undesirability of returning type specimens to places where there are no facilities for looking after them, or where the climatic environment is unfavourable.

    —  Antiquities are always being dug up and that archaeologists are usually prepared to come to terms about the distribution of types.

  The identities or interests of these witnesses were not revealed, and whatever archaeological opinion would have made of these statements in 1952 it is certain that today there is little to recommend them. There is no mention of assemblage, context or provenance, all now key concepts in archaeological practice.

  1.10  A further 11 paragraphs of the Waverley Report were devoted to the problem of re-exports. It noted cases where export licences had been refused for objects which had only recently been imported, and recognised the deleterious effect of such decisions on the trade and the confidence of buyers in the British market. The Committee emphasised that it was concerned with export control from the point of view of safeguarding national treasures, and recommended the establishment of a 50 year time limit so that export of objects imported within that period could be claimed as of right, and a licence automatically granted (ibid: 42). The volume of the antiquities trade at the time seems to have been small. The British Museum for instance advised that the majority of Greek and Roman antiquities exported were from long established British collections (ibid: 12).

  1.11  Since the Waverley Report there has been increasing concern over the fate of archaeological, and indeed of other types of collections, but to date there has been no positive initiative from Her Majesty's Government. The licensing system today is still focused on the concept of the individual object as a treasure or work of art and there is no regard to its cultural meaning or to the historical significance of its original context.

  1.12  In general the Waverley Committee felt that export control should be confined to limited categories of objects of high importance and recommended two mechanisms by means of which importance could be assessed. One was, quite simply, the monetary value of an object. A series of monetary thresholds were proposed for different categories of material and only objects of a price exceeding the relevant threshold would require a licence. If this criterion of monetary value was met, then the licence application would be referred to an expert adviser, who might assess the cultural or historical importance of an object by reference to the Waverley criteria (ibid: 36). The criteria are:

    I.  is the object so closely connected with our history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune?

    II.  is it of outstanding aesthetic importance?

    III.  is it of outstanding significance for the study of some particular branch of art, learning or history?

  1.13  The judgement of the expert adviser would then be subject to the further arbitration of an appointed Reviewing Committee, which would also be responsible for overseeing the operation of the control. In practice only a few licence applications for archaeological objects are referred to the Reviewing Committee, and deferrals are usually granted after satisfaction of the third criterion. Interestingly, though, in the Waverley Report, archaeological material was only mentioned in connection with the first criterion which, it was thought, might apply to:

    . . . such archaeological discoveries as the Battersea Shield and the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial in the British Museum, which are not protected by the law of Treasure Trove. (ibid: 37)

  Mention of the Sutton Hoo burial carries an implicit understanding of the importance of assemblage and context, which is not otherwise mentioned, as it is the context, and not the individual items, which provides the connection with British history and which imbues the objects with a historical rather than aesthetic importance.

  1.14  As a result of the Waverley Report two separate categories of material are now recognised by the licensing system: material which has been in the UK for over 50 years and material imported within that time. Thus a distinction is drawn between what is considered to be part of the national heritage—material in Britain for more than 50 years—and what is considered to be traded material—in Britain for less than 50 years. The operation of the licensing system pays great attention to the first category, indeed the system is designed specifically to protect the national heritage so that many objects will be reviewed individually. For the second category, however, the traded material, the requirements are less stringent and licences are granted more or less automatically. A cynical commentator might be forgiven for observing that the system functions to protect the heritage of the United Kingdom while at the same time allowing the British economy to benefit from marketing the heritage of others.

EC Regulation No. 3911/92

  1.15  The system of export control changed in 1993 with the implementation into British law of EC Regulation No. 3911/92 on the export of cultural goods. This imposed a zero monetary threshold on archaeological material and so required that all antiquities exported to destinations outside the European Union, whatever their value, should be subject to licence. The Regulation attracted opposition from commercial interests for what Brian Cook has called two reasons and an excuse (1995: 189). The reasons were first, that it would be bad for the London art market and, second, that the massive increase in licence applications would place an insupportable burden upon the Government department called upon to administer the system; the excuse was that it would commit the United Kingdom to enforcing the export laws of other countries. Under pressure from the trade, Her Majesty's Government negotiated an exclusion clause.

  1.16  HM Government had been prepared to block negotiations in Brussels over this issue of licensing archaelogical exports and as a result it was successful in obtaining an amendment to the Regulation so that objects of limited archaeological or scientific importance are now excluded from licensing requirements (Morrison 1995: 208-9). In response to concerns over illicit exports expressed by various Mediterranean countries the Reviewing Committee (1991: 6) responded that: ". . . the trade in cultural goods is an important area of trade and . . . the UK art trade operates a voluntary code of practice, agreeing not to handle objects which it has reasonable cause to believe are of dubious provenance". Some later Reports have taken a less sanguine view (1994: 9,11) and in 1992 the Committee felt that: "It may be . . . preferable to handle only objects of clearly identified provenance even if that would mean restricting the business to the contents of the sculpture gallery of Charles Towneley and the Duke of Marlborough's gem cabinet" (1992: 4). Needless to say, this happy circumstance has not materialised.

  1.17  At present the licensing system is administered by the Export Licensing Unit of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Reviewing Committee reports to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Guidelines to the operation of the system are set out in the 1997 booklet Export Licensing for Cultural Goods. In general, exports to destinations outside the European Union require an EC licence while exports to destinations within the European Union require a UK licence. The EC licence was introduced in 1993 with the implementation into British Law of EC Regulation 3911/92.

  1.18  DCMS figures show that the large majority of exports (of all classes of cultural material, and so presumably also antiquities) are directed outside the EU (Table 1).

Table 1.   TOTAL VALUE IN £(000) OF EXPORTS OF CULTURAL MATERIAL (REVIEWING COMMITTEE 1995: 61; 1996: 57; 1997: 55; 1998: 51)
Total exports Exports
outside the EU
1994-951,269,0571,171,490 92.3
1995-961,298,1441,189,532 91.6
1996-971,312,2811,261,421 96.1



  2.1  At the present time all archaeological material more than 50 years old found in UK soil or its territorial waters, whatever its value, requires a licence for export and is subject to expert review.


  2.2  Licence application forms are obtained from the Export Licensing Unit, and completed forms are returned to the Unit. A description of the object to be exported must be provided but there is no requirement for an accurate statement of provenance. Applications are then forwarded to an expert adviser, who will decide whether a licence should be granted or the application deferred. The adviser will judge the application by reference to the Waverley criteria, and if the object fails to satisfy any of the criteria then the licence is granted. If, however, the object is of Waverley standard (ie satisfies one or more of the Waverley criteria), then the licence application is referred to the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art. If the Reviewing Committee agrees that the object is of Waverley standard then it recommends to the Secretary of State that a decision on the licence application should be deferred for a specified period so that a British institution might come forward to purchase the item at a fair price, thereby guaranteeing its retention within the UK. If, on the other hand, the Reviewing Committee decides that the object in question is not of Waverley standard, then it recommends that an export licence be granted.

  2.3  Staff at the British Museum's Departments of Prehistoric and Roman Antiquities and Medieval and Later Antiquities act as expert advisers. They regularly review the catalogues of the major auction house (Sotheby's, Christie's, Bonhams and Phillips) but not of smaller dealers. They occasionally see licence applications from smaller dealers but not routinely.


  2.4  It is of interest to know what quantity of material might be moving out of the country without licence. Table 2 shows the number of export licences issues per year for archaeological material of UK origin over a nine year interval. It is clear that the numbers are not high, and the conclusion must follow that many objects are exported without a licence. Some cases of this sort are quite well known. The Icklingham Bronzes for instance, bought by The Ariadne Galleries of New York, where shipped to the US without any licence being issued. Many objects from the Salisbury Hoard were also exported but not a single licence application was made. Carolyn Morrison (1995: 208) has suggested that the Government response to this obvious evasion was to look again at the zero limit to see what part it plays in promoting clandestine trade although, to date, it has not been revised.

YearPrehistoric and
and Later

  2.5  Sometimes, at least, the failure to obtain a licence might owe more to uncertainty over licensing requirements than to deliberate evasion. One US company, for instance, organises treasure hunting tours to Britain and is careful to meet all legal requirements and works in collaboration with British museums. In the past, however, it has only applied for export licences for objects which would be designated under English law as Treasure, and was in the past unaware of the need to licence all objects. It estimates that for one of its tour groups, comprising about 40 metal detectorists, it would require many thousands of licences, which gives some idea of the amount of unlicensed material leaving the country. In 1999, however, after consultation with the Export Licensing Unit, a system has been established whereby everything discovered during the company's tours will be listed and passed by the British Museum, and a licence will be issued. If, in any one year, only a couple of hundred licence applications are reviewed while at the same time thousands of objects are exported by a single tour group then the true scale of unlicensed export is a matter only for speculation.



  3.1  If an antiquity to be exported to a destination outside the European Union is more than 100 years old then an EC Licence is required. However, objects considered to be in one of the following categories of limited archaeological or scientific interest do not require an export licence:

    —  numismatic items of a standard type which are pubished in a reference work on numismatics; and

    —  objects, other than numismatic items, which possess no special or rare features of form, size, material, decoration, inscription or iconography and which are not in an especially fine condition for the type of object.

  Objects falling within these categories do not require a licence provided that:

    —  they do not form part of a recognised archaeological collection of special historical significance;

    —  they are not the direct product of excavations, finds and archaeological sites within a Member State [of the European Union], ie they have not come straight onto the market after being recently discovered;

    —  they are lawfully on the market. Objects which are stolen would not qualify; and

    —  they do not fall within any other category of the Annex [of EC Regulation 3911/92]. Category A2 in particular may be relevant. That category covers elements forming an integral part of a dismembered monument more than 100 years old.

  It is worth emphasising this last point, made in the DCMS leaflet Guidance to Exporters of Antiquities, that elements forming an integral part of artistic, historical or religious monuments of an age exceeding 100 years which have been dismembered are subject to a zero monetary threshold and cannot be excluded from licensing requirements on the grounds of limited interest. Thus the large number of architectural fragments from Gandharan, Tibetan, Cambodian etc temples, palaces and monasteries which are presently flowing through the country should all be licensed. Whether they are or not is not known.

  3.2  Objects which have been imported from another EU country within 50 years of the date of export are automatically granted an EC licence provided it can be shown that the object was legally despatched from its originating member state. Again, this point needs emphasising. An application for an EC licence has to be accompanied by documentary proof of legal despatch from the EU country of origin. If the requirement for an EC licence is waived then no check is made on the legality of its previous export.

  3.3  If an object to be exported has been in the United Kingdom for more than 50 years, is more than 50 years old, and is valued at over £39,600, an expert adviser will judge the application by reference to the Waverley criteria, and a UK licence is required.

  The system is summarised on the next page:


  3.4  In practice, auction (and some dealers') catalogues are circulated to expert advisers in relevant museums who decide in advance of a sale which lots would require a licence for export, or might satisfy one or more of the Waverley criteria and be referred to the Reviewing Committee. Lists of lots requiring licences can be obtained at pre-sale viewings. For dealers who do not produce a catalogue licence applications are left to their own discretion and they provide the Export Licensing Unit with quarterly returns.


  3.5  In theory, the only antiquities which are judged by the Waverley criteria are those which have been in the United Kingdom for over 50 years and which are valued over the relevant monetary threshold (which is at present £39,600). In practice this seems usually to be the case. The average values of antiquities that are passed for expert judgement can be calculated from figures provided in the Reports of the Reviewing Committee (Table 3). It can be seen that for three categories of material over the past three years average values have exceeded the monetary threshold, except Greek and Roman in 1997-98, implying that antiquities valued at less than the set threshold were passed for judgement. Why this should have happened is not clear.

Total number
of objects
Total value
Average value
Egyptian51,810,000 362,000
Greek and Roman181,796,944 99,830
Western Asiatic7421,025 60,146
Egyptian11885,825 80,529
Greek and Roman10713,823 71,382
Western Asiatic10395,213 39,521
Egyptian101,420,000 142,000
Greek and Roman963,836 7,093
Western Asiatic15860,160 57,344

  3.6  How many antiquities require a licence? At the public viewings which precede auctions printed lists are available to indicate which lots will need a licence for export. The figures for two recent auctions held at Bonhams (for antiquities not of UK origin) are noted in Table 4.

Number of lots Number
25 November 1999310 134.2
22 April 199974168 9.2

  A preliminary conclusion to be drawn from these figures is that something in the region of 7 per cent of all antiquities exported should require a licence.

  3.7  It is not possible to estimate how many antiquities which arrived in the past 50 years (ie traded) are exported in any one year. The Chairman of the Antiquities Dealers Association (ADA) said in 1993 that its members had supplied a vast amount of data to the Government when lobbying to change the EC Regulation (Clayton 1993: 7), so when Carolyn Morrison, then head of the cultural property unit, suggests that the dealers themselves argued that upwards of half a million objects a year were leaving the country (1995: 208), it is a figure to be taken seriously. Assuming the dealers know their business, and half a million objects a year are indeed exported, and from the previous paragraph it is assumed that perhaps 7 per cent require a licence, then something in the order of 35,000 licences a year should be issued. This is not the case. The total number of licences issued per year by the Export Licensing Unit are shown in Table 5, and these figures are for all classes of cultural material, including fine art and antique furniture, not just antiquities.

Number of objects licensed

  Clearly, the number of licences issued for antiquities must be lower, and considerably lower than the expected 35,000. There are three possible explanations:

    —  There is widespread evasion of the licensing system.

    —  The figure of half a million objects suggested by the trade in 1993 was grossly inflated, perhaps to over-emphasise the economic importance of the trade so as to discourage the Government from implementing fully the EC Regulation.

    —  The major part of antiquities sold are not exported, in which case it is difficult to see how their sale can benefit the UK economy as the trade continues to maintain.

  It is not certain to what degree dealers comply with, or even understand, the present system of export control. One dealer has stated that a licence is only applied for when an object is sold for more than £39,600, which is clearly in contravention of present rules and harks back to the pre-1993 system. Another dealer, when approached, merely stated that the UK only operates the system out of selfish interest—it wants to keep the best pieces for itself! The Chairman of the ADA warned his members in 1993 that it was essential for antiquities dealers to comply fully with the EC licensing system as the negotiated exclusions are voluntary and could be withdrawn (Clayton 1993: 7). These figures suggest that compliance is far from satisfactory and that the exclusions should be reviewed.

  3.8  Any cultural object which has come into the United Kingdom from another EU Member State since 1993 must have valid export documentation from its country of origin before the DCMS will issue an EC licence for its export from the UK. This is to stop material from parts of Europe with a stringent export regime being exported from those (particularly the UK) with a more liberal regime. In practice, however, there seem to be few checks on original documentation because, as pointed out above, most material is excluded from EC licensing requirements, presumably on the grounds of limited importance. If an auction lot does not require a licence then it can be exported without any check being made on its original documentation.

  A study of Classical Greek and Italian pottery offered for sale at two recent auctions (Bonhams: 25 November 1998 and 22 April 1999) showed that out of a total of 61 lots only six had any kind of a provenance and of the remaining 55 only one required an EC licence for export. Thus 54 lots (106 pots) could have been exported without being passed through the licensing procedure, and with no check being made on their recent history. Included in this number were at least four Apulian vases. These vases, made during classical times in the area of what is now Puglia, in Italy, have been exhaustively studied and catalogued by Australian scholars. This means that any Apulian vase appearing on the market today without a provenance has almost certainly been looted. Official Italian statistics of illegal excavation show that between 1993-97, of all Italian regions, Puglia was probably the hardest hit. 21 per cent of all looted antiquities recovered nationwide by the Carabinieri were from this area. (Elia 1999.)

  The failure in the UK of expert advisors to ask that such material be licensed means that the original documentation of antiquities such as the Apulian vases is not checked—there is no check made on the legality of their original export from Italy. This seems to undermine the purpose of the EC Licensing System which is to prevent the illegal export of cultural material from one member state to another, and can only facilitate the movement of illicit material through the market.

  3.9  Upon occasion the licensing system has been abused when exporters have submitted recently imported antiquities for Waverley judgement, the intention being, in effect, to acquire a false provenance. (To be passed for a Waverley judgement the object must have been in Britain for 50 years, thus if an antiquity is passed through the Waverley reviewing procedure it effectively acquires an official statement to this effect). The most celebrated case of this sort was discussed in the Thirty-sixth Report of the Reviewing Committee (1990). An Etruscan helmet, discovered in 1965 15 kilometres south of Barcelona, was exported from Spain illegally in 1988 and sold at Christie's to Robin Symes, who subsequently exported it (legally) to the United States where it is now thought to be in the collection of Leon Levy and Shelby White. Robin Symes submitted his licence application for review, but the Committee granted a licence after they were made aware of its status as a recent import. They concluded that: "In future, therefore, when the Expert Adviser has strong doubts as to the date at which an object has been brought into this country, we shall recommend that a licence should be granted even if the object is of Waverley standard" (1990: 10). Despite his attempted abuse of the system Robin Symes was invited to attend meetings of the Reviewing Committee in 1997 as an independent assessor!


  4.1  Open Individual Export Licences exempt the holders from the need to apply for individual licences for exports to destinations within the EC of any object imported within the last 50 years. There are currently two in existence, and although the DCMS cannot reveal the identities of the holders in the Thirty-seventh Report of the Reviewing Committee (1991: 4) it was noted that OEILs had been granted to Sotheby's and Christie's, and there has been no subsequent notice of their withdrawal. It is notable that in the Forty-third Report of the Reviewing Committee the revelations made by Watson (1997) about the role played by Sotheby's in the illegal movement of antiquities were passed over in silence. The suitability of Sotheby's as a recipient of an OEIL was not questioned, although the Government has the power to revoke these licences if the holders engage in any form of disreputable practice.


  5.1  The Annual Reports of the Reviewing Committee also provide export statistics derived from HM Customs and Excise trade data, although there is little correspondence between these statistics (compiled by the Department of Trade and Industry) and those which record the value of export licences issued by the DCMS. As shown in Table 6 the DTI figures are consistently lower, and by significant amounts.


  The DTI figures are taken from the Standard International Trade Classification (SITC) Category 896 (Works of Art, Collectors Pieces and Antiques) which encompasses most cultural material licensed for export (including paintings etc), so there should be a broad measure of agreement between the two sets of statistics. If anything the value of material licensed should be lower than the value of material exported, as not all material exported is licensed. It shouldn't be almost three times as high, as it is in the figures for 1996-97.

  5.2  When approached, the DCMS suggests that objects between 50 and 100 years of age are excluded from the DTI figures, and perhaps aeroplanes and motor cars too. Other classes of material recorded by DCMS but not listed in SITC Category 896 might also be suggested: books; scientific drawings, manuscripts; photographs; scientific material. But still, over the years in question here (1993-96), these classes together only accounted for about 5-8 per cent of the total value of material of British origin licensed for export, which is not enough to explain the discrepancy. The DCMS statistics also include material from National Museums and Galleries leaving the country temporarily for exhibition, but it is not clear what proportion of the total can be accounted for by loans. Again, however, it is not likely to account for the large size of the discrepancy.

  5.3  However, the DTI statistics themselves are far from convincing. The Department of Trade and Industry allows public access to trade statistics which are compiled according to the internationally agreed Standard International Trade Classification (SITC). For cultural material, however, this classification is far from ideal as the recording categories are too broad and imprecise. Nevertheless, figures for exports to the US of category 896.50. (collections and collectors pieces of zoological, botanical, mineralogical, anatomical, historical, archaeological, palaeontological, ethnographic or numismatic interest) are shown in Table 7. Unfortunately, however, the official US trade statistics which record the value of imports from the UK for the same category (896.50), also shown in Table 7, do not agree with the equivalent figures provided by the DTI for British exports.

Exports to US1996 19971998
Total value (£000)22,320 18,21433,172
Imports from UK1996 19971998
Total value ($000)9,100 13,70013,700

  Clearly there is a huge discrepancy between the figures provided for US imports from the United Kingdom, and those for UK exports to the United States. UK exports are valued at something like two to three times more than US imports. The DTI can list thirteen reasons for discrepancies such as these, which include reporting timelags, differences in SITC categorisation and fraudulent declarations. The cause of the discrepancy in this particular case is not immediately clear.


  6.1  It is in the public's interest for the trade in antiquities to be properly monitored and for useable statistics to be compiled and made readily available as there are, at present, no reliable quantitative data available with which to describe the trade. In their absence there can be no fully informed debate over the merits or effectiveness of the UNESCO or UNIDROIT Conventions, or the desirability of ratification by Her Majesty's Government.

  6.2  It would also seem to be in the Government's interest, if only for purposes of revenue collection, to have a recording system that is comprehensive and coherent across different Departments.

  6.3  There is also increasing concern about the abuse of the antiquities trade for money laundering, and the trade might be included in a new money laundering Directive presently being drafted by the European Commission. Central features of any regulatory code, whether statutory or voluntary, are the creation of "paper trails" and the operation of a transparent market, as seen to some extent in the new CoPAT Codes of Due Diligence. The Financial Action Task Force (an inter-governmental body established by the 1989 G-7 summit in Paris to combat money laundering) noted in 1998 that an effective regime of export control deters the use of cultural objects for money laundering, and mentioned the French system. The French system requires that every object exported should be licensed.

  6.4  The export licensing system was never intended to control the movement through the United Kingdom of antiquities of foreign origin, thus it would be wrong to portray it as a mechanism of control. However, given the present state of the antiquities trade, which since 1952 has changed beyond recognition, and given the political importance of the problems caused by the trade, the licensing system could function as a useful, indeed necessary, means of information acquisition. The EC Licence application form requires that descriptions of the object to be exported be provided, which for objects originating outside the UK goes some way towards providing a provenance. Thus the information collected would allow material flows to be identified and quantified. This would require the present exclusions to be withdrawn, but otherwise no new legislation would be needed.

  6.5  The Reviewing Committee, which oversees the operation of the export licensing system, is assisted by an Advisory Council which has at present in excess of 60 members (see appendix) [16]. However, one—the Council for British Archaeology—could be said unequivocally to represent archaeological interests. It is surprising that English Heritage is not represented, nor indeed is Cadw or Historic Scotland: these are Government agencies charged with the protection of the nation's archaeological heritage. Similarly, there are no representatives or archaeological organisations with an interest in foreign archaeology, although the bulk of exported antiquities are probably of foreign origin, and a large number of British archaeologists have research interests abroad. They often have first hand experience of the damage caused by looting and so have a direct interest in the operation of the London market, but have no voice. The Sotheby's (paragraph 4.1.) and Symes (paragraph 3.9) episodes show clearly that archaeological concerns are not always uppermost in the minds of the Advisory Council. Clearly, there is an urgent need for greater archaeological representation, from the Institute of Field Archaeologists, English Heritage, Cadw and Historic Scotland, and perhaps also from the British membership of the European Association of Archaeologists and the World Archaeological Congress.

  6.6  In closing, the Waverley Report called for general co-operation between museums, collectors and dealers, and recommended in particular that dealers provide information and guidance regarding sales (Committee on the Export of Works of Art etc 1952: 64). It was intended that such co-operation would reduce the burden on the Review Committee, but the policy of non-disclosure promoted by the trade as a professional principle would seem to fly in the face of this recommendation. It is a shame that now, nearly 50 years later, the British taxpayer might be called upon to help monitor the activities of those who profit from the destruction of the world's archaeological heritage.


  1.  HM Government should move to revoke exclusions to the EC licensing requirements for archaeological material.

  2.  HM Government should ensure that information collected by the Export Licensing Unit is made publicly available.

  3.  HM Government should look again at the constitution of the Advisory Council, and promote increased archaeological representation.


  Thanks are due to Roger Bland, John Cherry, David Gurney, Lynn Gates, Stuart Needham, James Normandi and Graham Suggett for information supplied. The opinions expressed, however, remain my own.


  Clayton, PA 1993. Antiquities legislation and the European Community. Minerva 4, 1: 7.

  Committee on the Export of Works of Art etc (1952). The Export of Works of Art etc. Report of a committee appointed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, London: HMSO.

  Cook, B 1995. The antiquities trade; a curator's view, in K W Tubb (ed), Antiquities Trade or Betrayed: 181-192. London: Archetype Publications.

  Elia, R 1999. Apulian vases. Paper presented at the symposium Illicit Antiquities: The Destruction of the World's Archaeological Heritage, held at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge, October 1999.

  Maurice, C & Turnor, R 1992. The export licensing rules in the United Kingdom and the Waverley Criteria. International Journal of Cultural Property 1: 273-95.

  Morrison, CR 1995 United Kingdom Export Policies in relation to antiquities, in K W Tubb (ed.), Antiquities Trade or Betrayed: 205-210. London: Archetype Publications.

  Reviewing Committee 1990. Export of Works of Art 1990-91. Thirty-sixth Report of the Reviewing Committee. London: HMSO.

  Reviewing Committee 1991. Export of Works of Art 1990-91. Thirty-seventh Report of the Reviewing Committee. London: HMSO.

  Reviewing Committee 1992. Export of Works of Art 1991-92. Thirty-eighth Report of the Reviewing Committee. London: HMSO.

  Reviewing Committee 1994. Export of Works of Art 1993-94. Fortieth Report of the Reviewing Committee. London: HMSO.

  Watson, P 1997. Sotheby's Inside Story. London: Bloomsbury.

March 2000

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