The curatorial faculty of The University Museum today reached the unanimous conclusion that they would purchase no more art objects or antiquities for the Museum unless the objects are accompanied by a pedigree—that is information about the different owners of the objects, place of origin, legality of export, and other data useful in each individual case.
Our collections represent people and cultures from around the globe, both past and present; it is therefore crucial that the stories we tell expand our cultural conceptions and challenge what we think we know about our shared history. As our ongoing research recovers the voices of people who helped shape that history, it is critical to confront and learn from our own past.
On April 1, 1970, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (now the Penn Museum) became the first museum to take formal steps towards guaranteeing the ethical acquisition of materials and deterring looting and illicit antiquities trading. This statement of ethics was called the Pennsylvania Declaration.
Later that year, the United Nations issued the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Since then, supporting resolutions have been passed by the Archaeological Institute of America, the Society for American Archaeology, and the American Anthropological Association. Read the full 1970 UNESCO Treaty.
In 1978, the Museum adopted a more stringent acquisitions policy, stating that all undocumented archaeological objects made available by gift, bequest, or exchange would be refused if acquired after 1970, and that the Museum reserved the right to refuse to loan objects to museums suspected of having knowingly violated the UNESCO Convention.
Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act
In 1990, we hired a full-time Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Coordinator and formed a NAGPRA Committee to begin working with Native American and Native Hawaiian communities on the respectful return of human remains of their peoples.
Since then, the Penn Museum has mailed over 3,000 letters to federally recognized tribes informing them of our holdings and extending invitations to consult with us about our holdings. As of 2020, 49 formal repatriation claims seeking the return of collections have been received and 29 repatriations have been completed, resulting in the transfer of 266 sets of human remains, 750 funerary objects, 14 unassociated funerary objects, 23 objects of cultural patrimony, 24 sacred objects and 2 objects claimed as both cultural patrimony and sacred.Learn More
The Museum completed a comprehensive institution-wide reassessment of its Human Remains Policy as part of fulfilling an action step in the Morton Collection Committee’s Report.Learn More