The Community on the Illicit Trade in Cultural Material aims to:

  1. prevent and contrast looting and illegal excavations;
  2. limit trafficking and accept selling of cultural heritage to those objects that have a certificate of legal and ethical origin (e.g. as in the UNIDROIT convention (1995), or the Kulturgüterrückgabegesetz, Germany (1999 and 2007, see here), which is planned to be even stricter in 2016);
  3. develop strategies for a common European legal basis for the protection of archaeological sites and material culture;
  4. develop a code of conduct for archaeologists;
  5. develop an European standard for the protection of cultural heritage and archaeological finds;
  6. establish partnerships with specialists and enforcement agencies working in similar issues (e.g. UNESCO, Italian Carabinieri, UK Art and Antiques Unit);
  7. raise public and institutional awareness of the impact of the destruction of cultural heritage and the legal consequences of doing so.

We aim to prevent and reduce looting and illegal excavations by a variety of far-reaching strategies, including organising public activities and raising of public awareness of the negative consequences of illegal excavations for the public, such as loss of cultural value, common history, identity, and touristic potential. Also, we aim to raise public awareness of the value of archaeological finds, and their context for everyone (information at schools, exhibitions, information material, brochures, collecting and publishing of information in a public database and web map). We will do this through such strategic use of press, and social media.

A special focus will be on so-called ‘high end’ collectors; we hope to raise ethical issues, making it more difficult to justify their collecting practices in light of the impact it has on archaeological sites, and the loss of contextual information of the find in general. Significant attention will be also drawn to effective regulation of and engagement with legal artefact hunters (e.g. metal detectorists in countries where this hobby is legal), such as raising awareness about avoiding going on protected land, better routes for recording finds and their contexts, and better advice for preserving assemblages (rather than breaking them up for resale).

Moreover, we plan to offer cooperation with local and international police officers, government agencies, and specialists working in similar issues (UNESCO, Interpol, Italian Carabinieri, and others). This will also raise the profile of ‘heritage crimes’, and result in partnerships with enforcement authorities (including advising export licensing authorities, customs and border control, and others). Consequently, we support a call for more coordinated sharing of information across Europe, from intelligence on sales and crime trends through to more coordinated data sharing for (i.e. compatible software to enable cross-comparisons and transnational research between national and international databases). Examples of such databases can be found in Israel and Egypt (see below).

The community moreover aims to provide a holistic overview and publish regularly reports on the current situation on heritage crime in every membership country. Over time we will kindly ask EAA-members to contribute to our studies with information about their country. Another aspiration is the creation of country-specific brochures both for archaeologists and the interested public, summarizing the current legal status, and the negative effects for all of us of unauthorised excavations, artefact hunting, theft from museums/public collections, and archaeological material originating from armed conflicts taking place in various parts of the world.

We aim to limit trafficking and accept selling of cultural heritage to those objects that have a certificate of origin as e.g. noted in the Directive 2014/60/EU and the Berliner Erklärung (1988; see Thorn 2005, Anhang 2, 407-408) by supporting the establishment of an (inter)national database in order to register finds with photo and identifier number. For example, the Israeli high court announced recently that all antiquities dealers will have to allocate every artefact an identification number and picture, which will be stored on an electronic database. Egypt is going to follow this example. Another issue will be to encourage more museums to join ICOM, and consequently to adhere to the ICOM codes of ethics, especially articles 2, 7, and 8 (see link below).

We refer to the critical statement of C. Renfrew (2006) on museum acquisitions and the therewith connected responsibilities for the illicit trade in antiquities.

We urge all our colleagues to use every communication channel, from social media and encounters with the press, to guided tours for schools, to spread information about archaeologist’s ethical standpoint and why it is important to protect our cultural heritage.


Renfrew, C. 2006. Museum Acquisitions. Responsibilities for the Illicit Traffic in Antiquities. In: Brodie, N., Kersel, M. M., Luke, C., Walker Tubb, K. (eds). Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and the Antiquities Trade (University Press of Florida).

Thorn, B. 2005. Internationaler Kulturgüterschutz nach der UNIDROIT-Konvention. Schriften zum Kulturgüterschutzrecht (Berlin).