Memorandum submitted by the United Kingdom
Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (UKIC)
1. UKIC is a registered charitable company
limited by guarantee, set up to encourage education, study and
research in conservation and related practices. Its membership
consists mainly of professional conservator-restorers divided
into nine specialist materials sections presided over by the Council
which meets at least quarterly. The sections operate under the
auspices of their own elected committees and are Archaeology,
Ceramics and Glass, Furniture, Gilding, Metals, Paintings, Stained
Glass, Stone and Wall-paintings, and Textiles. UKIC is notable
for the breadth of conservation expertise represented by its membership
which is by subscription.
2. UKIC was founded in 1958 and has always
been dedicated to the care and preservation of cultural property.
In 1993, the Archaeology Section, increasingly concerned by the
burgeoning trade in antiquities most of which were unprovenanced,
organised an international conference entitled "Conservation
and the Antiquities Trade". The proceedings and a selection
of other papers were published in 1995 in a volume entitled Antiquities:
Trade or BetrayedLegal, ethical and conservation issues.
(See copy provided with this memorandum.)
UKIC and the Archaeology Section remain extremely concerned about
issues raised by the illicit trade in antiquities in particular,
and in cultural property in general, and are adamantly opposed
to the looting of archaeological sites and the destruction of
the archaeological heritage both in the UK and abroad. Mindful
of the irretrievable loss to mankind's knowledge and understanding
of the past, it is a source of deep regret that so much material,
which would be deemed stolen in its country of origin, should
be traded freely in the UK.
3. The Archaeology Section has been a member
of the Standing Conference on Portable Antiquities since its inception.
UKIC is aware that the Standing Conference is submitting evidence
separately on behalf of all its representatives which it endorses
but UKIC wanted to reinforce further the strength of its concern
by means of its own brief submission. UKIC's anxiety has been
increased by the Government's recent announcement of its decision
not to become a signatory to either the 1970 UNESCO Convention
on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import,
Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property nor
to the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported
Cultural Objects. UKIC would also suggest that the Select
Committee consult a report prepared for the Museums Association
(MA) and the International Council of Museums (ICOM) by Neil Brodie,
Jenny Doole and Peter Watson which is in the process of being
published under the working title The Illicit Trade in Cultural
and Natural Science Material.
4. The negative impact on world heritage
of the illicit trade in cultural property is incalculable. Decontextualisation
of artefacts whether they be decorative architectural features
such as wallpaintings or heads of statues, ethnographic materials
such as Aymara textiles or Nigerian house posts, or archaeological
artefacts, deprives them of a large part of their meaning and
impoverishes all humanity. The destruction of the world's archaeological
heritage threatens our potential to know anything substantive
of whole civilisations. It must be remembered that the archaeological
sites are a non-renewable resource. The loss of context caused
by the systematic looting of sites has been likened to the Roman
destruction of the library in Alexandria in which much of the
learning of antiquity was burned. (Meyer, K., The Plundered
Past, Atheneum, New York .)
5. It is vital to bear in mind that the
destruction of the archaeological record is the same regardless
of the monetary value of the artefacts recovered. Loss of knowledge
results and is unaffected by the financial value of what is retrieved.
6. The mining of a site for recovery of
artefacts for the illicit market is estimated to result in the
destruction of as much as 90 per cent of the recoverable material
depending on the extraction method. (Melikian, S., "A Degree
of Destruction Unprecedented in the History of the Worldand
Yet I Support Collecting". Art Newspaper, No 52, (London),
October 1995.) Fragile materials and any artefacts not deemed
to have any monetary value are destroyed or discarded and sustain
irreparable damage. Contextual information is not the only casualty.
7. Artefacts deemed marketable then sustain
further damage to facilitate smuggling them out of their country
of origin (for example, flat-packing stone sarcophagi and stelae)
and to obscure their true provenance and identity (for example,
chopping up wallpaintings and mosaics into smaller decorative
fragments for separate sale as was done to the Tree of Jesse fresco
from the monastery of Antiphonitis and the apsidal mosaics from
Panayia Kanakaria« in northern Cyprus). The 1997 case of
Regina v Jonathan Tokeley-Parry illustrates this
point aptly and UKIC suggests that the Select Committee might
wish to receive oral evidence for amplification from Helena Jaeschke.
(Also, see Jaeschke, H., 1996. The Conservation Treatment of Looted
Antiquities and the Responsibilities of Conservators. pp 82-85
in A Ray and P Smith eds, Archaeological Conservation and Its
Consequences. London: IIC.)
8. Unexcavated antiquities are uniquely
vulnerable since their ownership cannot be demonstrated by reference
to catalogues, inventories and so on. Consequently, unprovenanced
pieces and those which have not formed part of a documented collection
which come onto the market should be regarded with suspicion.
Actions for recovery of such material are exceedingly difficult.
It is in recognition of this that the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention
confers special protection to such material in Article 3.2. UKIC
hopes that the distinction of antiquities from the rest of cultural
property will be acknowledged by this Committee. (See Tubb, K.W.,
1996, "Thoughts in Response to the Draft Principles to Govern
a Licit International Traffic in Cultural Property", pp 113-116
in M Briat and JA Freedberg eds, Legal Aspects of International
Trade in Art. Vol. V, International Sales of Works of Art.
Paris, The Hague: ICC Publishing SA and Kluwer Law International.)
9. UKIC is aware that marine archaeological
heritage is at risk from the trade in antiquities. Developments
since the mid 1980s in mixed gas "technical diving"
and deep sea-bed technology using remotely operated "grabs"
mean that such heritage is increasingly under threat. The majority
of financially-led excavations generate artefacts with a provenance
insufficiently specific to contribute to the archaeological record,
despite the high-profile exhibitions often associated with archaeological
treasure salvage. The masked appearance of artefacts from marine
sites frequently incurs the use of inadequate, damaging or destructive
treatments with no adherence to professional ethics. The use of
explosives to blow apart ancient shipping in order to retrieve
the portable heritage within has been routine. Artefacts recovered,
such as cannon and small personal items, even within the bounds
of state concessions to salvage, contribute greatly to increased
demands for marine artefacts within the international art market:
marine sites in third world states are particularly vulnerable.
The monetary example of the astrolabe is known to have directly
resulted in the exploitation of previously undisturbed wrecks
in deeper waters. Known sites are subject to theft to order. UKIC
commends the Government's current involvement with the draft UNESCO
Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage but
is concerned in this context at the Government's recent decision
not to sign up to existing Conventions as mentioned above, para
3. The Select Committee may wish to receive oral evidence from
Amanda Sutherland for amplification of this paragraph.
10. By its own admission, the art market
is secretive. Measures to introduce greater transparency such
as the concept of "due diligence" are essential to help
counteract the illicit trade. Failure to adopt such measures to
proscribe trading in unprovenanced material will obstruct progress
on countering trade in and return of illicitly acquired material.
The easing of trade restrictions on elephant ivory and the concomitant
rise in poaching of elephants is indicative of this.
11. Ethical codes such as the ICOM Code
of Professional Ethics exist but are failing in that no apparent
action seems to be taken when breaches occur.
12. The EC Directive on the Return of Cultural
Objects Unlawfully Removed from the Territory of a Member State
and the implementing statutory instrument The Return of Cultural
Objects Regulations 1994, 51, No. 501 of 1994 are felt to be ineffective
because the machinery to operate them is elaborate, bureaucratic
and expensive. Additionally they are limited to EC members only
and private citizens have no statutory right of action.
13. The 1970 UNESCO Convention and the 1995
UNIDROIT Convention are not retroactive. UKIC regards the conflation
of claims for restitution of cultural property removed, not necessarily
illicitly, in the more distant past with action to address the
present situation as unhelpful.
14. Discussions of this nature often appear
to suggest that the sharing of cultural materials among the different
world cultures can only be achieved by transferring titles of
ownership. This is not so. Such sharing is essential for all but
can be accomplished by means of loans and negotiated exchanges
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