Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by RESCUE: The British Archaeological Trust

We would like to offer the following evidence to the Committee:

  1.  RESCUE: The British Archaeological Trust is an independent charity which acts to promote archaeology's interests in Britain and seeks to maintain the position of archaeology as a vital part of our nation's cultural life.

  2.  Archaeological understanding derives from the inter-relationship of objects and location. When an object is removed without proper record this relationship is destroyed and knowledge is irrevocably lost. The worldwide illicit trade in antiquities represents a huge loss of knowledge from human history.

  3.  There is a long standing impression that not only is London a key player in the antiquities market but also that the British Government has in the past been more concerned to protect this trade than to investigate how much of the material was obtained illicitly in the country of origin.

  4.  We are also concerned about objects found illicitly within the United Kingdom and then exported. RESCUE was particularly involved in the case of the Icklingham Bronzes which illustrated the inadequacies of the current situation. These objects, a group of Roman bronze heads and statuettes, were eventually shown to have been looted from a Scheduled Ancient Monument at Icklingham, Suffolk in about 1982. Fortunately photographs of the pieces came into the hands of the British Museum, so that when the major elements of the group appeared in a New York gallery in 1989 they could be identified. However it rapidly became apparent that there was no mechanism by which these important pieces could be reclaimed as far as the Government was concerned, nor was any help forthcoming for the landowner, Mr John Browning to reclaim his property. The only hope of recovery was for Mr Browning to embark on a private prosecution which he did; the claims and counter claims still continue in the American courts.

  5.  Having publicised the Icklingham case in 1989-90, RESCUE identified the need for Britain to ratify the 1970 UNESCO Convention so that such a situation could not occur again in the future. We still believe that ratification of this and of the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention are a necessary step to protect our heritage and to demonstrate our opposition to the looting of archaeological sites in any part of the world.

March 2000

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