A "Statement of Concern" regarding the publication of unprovenanced antiquities has been circulating recently by letter, email and on various scholarly listservs. The "Statement" affirms opposition to looting, recognizes the damage done by the destruction of context, and makes a case for the publication of unprovenanced antiquities, particularly texts, in order to salvage the information they may contain.
The "Statement," however, also makes several erroneous assertions regarding the policies of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) on the publication of undocumented antiquities, and alleges that these "rules" were adopted "without a vote of (its)membership." In fact, since 1970 the Council of the AIA has voted to adopt a series of resolutions and policies that are quite different from what is asserted in the "Statement." The Council is the largest and most representative governing body of the AIA. It is comprised of representatives chosen by all of the AIA's 102 Local Societies and of representatives of the members-at-large, and is empowered to vote on policy issues and pass resolutions on behalf of the membership. The following list of the AIA's ethical and publication policies adopted since 1970 is provided in the interest of setting the record straight and of clarifying the AIA's positions on the publication and presentation of undocumented antiquities as well as its ethical standards. Complete texts may be found on the AIA's web site.
1. Resolution in support of the Draft UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Adopted by a vote of the AIA Council, December 30, 1970.
2. Resolution on the acquisition of antiquities by museums. Adopted by vote of the Council of the AIA, December 30, 1973.
3. Resolution on the presentation of undocumented antiquities at the AIA's Annual Meeting. Adopted by vote of the Council, December 30, 1973 and revised 2004. The full text of the amended resolution is provided here:
The Annual Meeting may not serve for the announcement or initial scholarly presentation of any object in a public or private collection acquired after December 30, 1973, unless its existence can be documented prior to that date, or it was legally exported form the country of origin. An exception may be made by the Program for the Annual Meeting Committee if the presentation emphasizes the loss of archaeological context.
4. In 1978 the editors of the American Journal of Archaeology (AJA) adapted the 1973 Annual Meeting Presentation Policy to apply to articles published in the AJA. See Editorial Statement, AJA vol. 82, 1978, p. 1. The policy has been clarified in a succession of editorial statements published in the AJA vol. 86, 1982, pp. 1-2; vol. 94, 1990, pp. 525-527, and most recently vol. 109, 2005, pp. 135-136 (see also www.archaeological.org/webinfo.php?page=10040). The current text of the AJA publications policy as amended in 2004 reads: As a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America, AJA will not serve for the announcement or initial scholarly presentation of any object in a private or public collection acquired after December 30, 1973, unless its existence is documented before that date, or it was legally exported from the country of origin. An exception may be made if, in the view of the Editor, the aim of publication is to emphasize the loss of archaeological context. Reviews of exhibitions, catalogues, or publications that do not follow these guidelines should state that the exhibition or publication in question includes material without known archaeological findspot.
At no time was an attempt made to "blame the object" or to prevent the scholarly discussion of archaeological objects or materials already in the scholarly record. In the words of Naomi Norman, current Editor-in-Chief of the AJA, "The clear intent of the policy was not to enhance the market value or importance of these objects by giving them the imprimatur of the AIA by publishing them for the first time in the AJA..." In clarification of the modified policy she stated, "The intent here is to keep the checkered past of an object out in the open and part of the continuing scholarly discussion of that piece (emphasis added). All too often, once a piece gets 'proper scholarly presentation' and the debate begins, scholars forget that the object is without archaeological context and may have come to the market illegally...The point is to remind us all of how much information and value is lost when an object is illegally removed from its archaeological context," (AJA 109, 2005, p. 136).
5. On December 29,1990 the AIA Council voted to adopt a Code of Ethics. The Code was amended at the Council meeting of December 29, 1997 and now reads:
The Archaeological Institute of America is dedicated to the greater understanding of archaeology, to the protection and preservation of the world's archaeological resources and the information they contain, and to the encouragement and support of archaeological research and publication. In accordance with these principles, members of the AIA should:
1. Seek to ensure that the exploration of archaeological sites be conducted according to the highest standards under the direct supervision of qualified personnel, and that the results of such research be made public;
2. Refuse to participate in the trade in undocumented antiquities and refrain from activities that enhance the commercial value of such objects. Undocumented antiquities are those which are not documented as belonging to a public or private collection before December 30, 1970, when the AIA Council endorsed the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Property, or which have not been excavated and exported from the country of origin in accordance with the laws of that country;
3. Inform appropriate authorities of threats to, or plunder of archaeological sites, and illegal import or export of archaeological material.
6. A Code of Professional Standards applying to AIA's professional members was adopted by vote of the Council on December 29, 1994 and amended on December 29, 1997. Among other things, this Code states: "Professional archaeologists should adhere to the Guidelines of the AIA general Code of Ethics concerning illegal antiquities in their research and publication." The full text of this Code may be found at
It should be noted that neither the general Code of Ethics nor the Code of Professional Standards constitute "rules" that the membership "must" follow. They are rather guidelines for ethical behavior and statements of responsibility to the archaeological record that the membership of the AIA, through its Council, has affirmed many times since 1970. While these guidelines firmly discourage any involvement of its members in the antiquities trade, the AIA does not censor the objects of members' research and scholarship.
Jane C. WaldbaumPresident, Archaeological Institute of America
Saturday, April 22, 2006
AN AIA RESPONSE TO STAGER'S "STATEMENT OF CONCERN" was posted on the Agade list. I reproduce it here with Jane Waldbaum's permission: