Following a year and half of deliberations, the directors of the country's largest art museums have issued new guidelines for collecting antiquities with the goal of discouraging the looting of archaeological sites and treasures, the Associated Press reports.
Announced by the Association of Art Museum Directors, which includes leaders from institutions in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, the guidelines recommend that member museums not acquire an ancient work of art unless research proves that the object was either outside the country where it most likely was discovered before 1970, or was legally exported from its probable country of discovery after 1970. That is the year that UNESCO ratified a landmark convention prohibiting the trafficking of illicit antiquities, and it is widely accepted that objects that appear on the market without documentation leading back that far are more likely to have been stolen or illegally dug up and smuggled out of their country of origin. While the guidelines are voluntary, the association urged its members to accept them and to develop acquisition policies that follow the recommendations.
In recent years, museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles have agreed to return specific artifacts of disputed provenance to Italy. The policy, which AAMD acknowledges will probably make it more difficult for museums to build their antiquities collections, is designed to dry up the market for artifacts that have been removed from archaeological sites under suspicious circumstances. In addition, AAMD will create a centralized Internet database through which its members can provide detailed information about newly acquired antiquities.
The immediate reaction to the policy among archaeologists and others who have lobbied for stringent collecting standards was generally favorable, although some said they had hoped the policy would make the 1970 cutoff inviolable, as many university museums and some large museums, including the Getty, the British Museum, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art, have done.
"On an overarching level this is a significant step forward," Patty Gerstenblith, a law professor at DePaul University, told the Times. Still, she added, "the fact that a museum can use its own informed judgment obviously leaves a lot of discretion, a lot of room for exceptions."