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


Memorandum submitted by the British Academy

  1.  The British Academy is the national academy for the promotion of advanced research in the humanities and social sciences. It was founded as an independent learned society in 1901 since when it has grown to become a Fellowship of some 700 members elected in recognition of their distinction as scholars in the humanities and social sciences. The different academic disciplines are brought together in 18 Sections one of which, Section H7, represents Archaeology. The Section comprises 46 Fellows whose academic interests are worldwide. The Section benefits from the advice of 28 Corresponding Fellows from 13 different countries.

  The aims of the Academy are:

    —  to represent the interests of scholarships nationally and internationally;

    —  to give recognition to excellence;

    —  to promote and support advanced research;

    —  to further international collaboration and exchanges;

    —  to promote public understanding of research and scholarship; and

    —  to publish the results of research.

  2.  In 1998 the British Academy gave urgent consideration to the problem of the looting of archaeological sites worldwide and the illicit trade in antiquities which was its prime cause. After a full examination of the issues a resolution was drawn up and was adopted by the Council of the Academy. A copy of that resolution is appended[41].

  3.  The British Academy continues to be greatly concerned at the looting of the world's archaeological heritage through the unauthorized excavation of archaeological sites to produce artefacts which are then illegally exported and sold overseas. The Academy is also concerned that, in the United Kingdom, there is at present no restriction upon such trade: it is therefore legal to offer for sale objects that have been illicitly excavated in, and illegally exported from, their country of origin. A large proportion of "unprovenanced antiquities" which appear on the market in the United Kingdom derive from recently looted archaeological sites.

  4.  Illicit excavations cause substantial damage to archaeological sites which are an essential and irreplaceable part of a nation's heritage. When objects are removed from their contexts without record all associated information is lost to scholarship. The wholesale destruction of unique archaeological data continues unabated in many countries throughout the world simply to satisfy the financial interests of those who articulate the illicit trade. Clearly such a situation is unacceptable.

  5.  The strong support which the Academy gives to the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the 1994 UNIDROIT Convention is based on its firmly-held belief that these two documents offer a simple and effective way of restricting, and thus diminishing, the traffic in unprovenanced antiquities: they also provide for appropriate restitution procedures. Ratification of the Conventions by the United Kingdom Government will give impetus to the movement to bring to an end the looting and destruction of the world's archaeological heritage.

  6.  The British Academy is not primarily concerned with the wider range of restitution issues insofar as they relate to antiquities which were exported prior to the Second World War. Some of these issues lie principally within the political sphere and raise controversial questions upon which academic opinion is likely to remain divided.

  7.  The British Academy endorses the appended statement[42] which seeks, by reducing the ongoing traffic in illicit antiquities, to diminish the motive for the looting of archaeological sites and the significant loss of information about the past which it entails.

March 2000

41   Not printed Back

42   Not printed Back

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