Archaeological Material and Ancient Art Provenance Research

Ancient works of art and works from archaeological settings are present in many museums.  While they can teach us a great deal about ancient civilizations, in recent years there has been an increased awareness of the knowledge that may be lost when works are dug up illegally, sometimes dismembered, and sold by looters.  Information such as a work’s findspot, the layer of earth in which it was found, and knowledge of other objects located nearby – in short, its entire context – are then lost to scholarship. On November 17, 1970 UNESCO ratified a Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import and Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.  This convention stipulates that works such as archaeological material and ancient art that change hands after November 17, 1970 must have already been out of their country of origin prior to that date, or, if they left after that date, must have done so with valid export documents. The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) issued position papers and reports on the topic of the collecting cultural artifacts, antiquities and archaeological material in 2002, 2006 and 2008, and the AMAM has determined that for complete transparency, it will make publicly available a list of its ancient and archaeological works that were acquired after November 17, 1970 and for which there is either no or incomplete evidence that the work was already out of its country of origin and for which there are no known export documents. Furthermore, should the AMAM acquire any archaeological material or antiquities after June 4, 2008, they would be listed on the AAMD’s object registry; the AMAM has not acquired any such works after that date. So far, the AMAM has completed a review of the Greek, Roman, Cypriot and Etruscan works currently on view in its galleries; the AMAM continues to assess other Mediterranean antiquities in its collection, as well as ancient works from Asia.

Click here, AMAM Archaeological Material and Ancient Art Provenance List, for ancient and archaeological works in the AMAM collection that were acquired after November 17, 1970 and for which it is not known that they were definitively out of their country of origin prior to that date and for which there are no known export documents. It is important to note that a listing here does not necessarily mean that the work was looted, or improperly left its country of origin. In many cases it may reflect incomplete or inadequate record keeping by previous owners. Research on the history of ownership is a continuing process. New information about ancient and archaeological material will be disclosed as it becomes available, and images of the works will be added as they become available.