Cultural Property (Armed Conflict) Bill [Lords]

Written evidence submitted by Professor David Gill, Director of Heritage Futures and Professor of Archaeological Heritage, University of Suffolk (CPB 01)

Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill

Summary. I would like to comment on one clause (17), and one definition (Article 1) of the Bill. Firstly, I would like to suggest a tightening of the "due diligence" process in order to protect sellers and to clarify the definition of "knowing or having reason to suspect" the background of objects. Secondly, I would wish to stress the need to include all archaeological material within the definition of the Bill in order to avoid creating a loophole.

Background. I am a researcher in the field of cultural property and have published widely in this area since the late 1980s. In 2012 I received the Archaeological Institute of America’s Outstanding Public Service Award.

1. Clause 17 (1)

17 (1). "It is an offence for a person to deal in unlawfully exported cultural property, knowing or having reason to suspect that it has been unlawfully exported."

1.1. I recognise that there are a large number of dealers, galleries and auction houses that are seeking to distance themselves from recently surfaced (so-called "illicit") antiquities.

1.2. The investigation into the "Medici Conspiracy" - linked largely, though not entirely, to archaeological material from Italy - was initiated by a journalistic investigation into the operations of a major London auction-house. As a result of the investigation that particular auction-house suspended the sale of antiquities through its London office for several years. The seizure in Switzerland and Greece of major photographic and documentary archives by the Italian authorities, as well as academic research, has led to some 350 objects being returned to Italy from various North American public and university museums, auction-houses, galleries and dealers, as well as private collectors. One of the regular phrases used by those who had acquired such material was that the items had been acquired in "good faith" or had formed part of some "established" collection. It is clear from an analysis of the collecting histories (a phrase I prefer to use than the rather obsolete and certainly misleading "provenance") for these returned objects that there was a regular fabrication of the supporting paperwork or the creation of an oral account of how the objects had passed through the market or previous owners.

1.3. The present due diligence process used by dealers, galleries and auction-houses seems to lack the appropriate rigour to detect these issues. One of the reasons is that there is an over reliance on the commercial databases run by companies to check that objects have not been reported as stolen. In terms of archaeological material such checks are inappropriate as something that has been looted from an archaeological context in recent years and then surfaces on the market will not have been photographed and reported as stolen. It goes without saying that the deposition of these objects in graves and other locations predates the invention of photography. However the defence is regularly used that a check on a stolen art database had been made and no positive identification made.

1.4. I suggest that there needs to be a tightening of the due diligence process to establish the authenticated collecting histories of objects and to prevent looted archaeological material entering the so-called legitimate market. This would address concerns over the interpretation of "reason to suspect" over material appearing on the market.

2. Article 1. Definition of cultural property

2.1. I would stress the need to include all archaeological material within the terms of the Bill. There have been suggestions that a minimum value limit for each object should be set, or that the Bill should only cover objects of "artistic merit". It was clear from personal visits to a number of locations in London in late 2014 and through much of 2015, that a considerable amount of "low value" archaeological material (including ancient coins) apparently from Syria and northern Iraq (the origin is based on the type of material or in some cases from information offered by the sellers) was openly on offer. These findings were presented on BBC Radio 4 ‘File on 4’ "Islamic State: Looting for Terror" (2015) and expanded for the Journal of Art Crime (2015; 2016).


BBC File on 4: Islamic State: Looting for Terror. Broadcast 22 February 2015.

Gill, David W.J. 2014. Context Matters. Learning from the Herm: The Need for More Rigorous Due Diligence Searches. Journal of Art Crime 12: 57-62.

Gill, David W.J. 2015. Context Matters. From Palmyra to Mayfair: the Movement of Antiquities from Syria and Northern Iraq. Journal of Art Crime 13: 73-80

Gill, David W.J. 2016. Context Matters. The Auction Market and Due Diligence: the Need for Action. Journal of Art Crime 15: 73-77.

November 2016


Prepared 16th November 2016