Penn Museum logo

Cultural Heritage (1970 UNESCO Convention)

"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."
-April 1, 1970, Board of Managers of The University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology was the first institution to take a public stand on what was, and continues to be a highly controversial subject. On April 1, 1970, the Penn Museum issued what came to be known as the Pennsylvania Declaration, stating that no object would be purchased unless accompanied by a pedigree, including "information about the different owners, place of origin, legality of export, etc." Later that year, the United Nations issued the UNESCO Convention (see below) 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.

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.

The modern discipline of archaeology has existed for little more than a hundred years. As ethical and national views of archaeology and its rights and responsibilities shift, the role of archaeologists continues to change. Our archaeologists continue to make exciting discoveries about the civilizations of the past. In the 21st century, however, archaeologists bring back from the field the knowledge they have gained: the objects, with rare exception, remain in their country of origin.

-adapted from Elin C. Danien's Guide to the Mesoamerican Galleries, published by the Penn Museum in 2002.

Read more about the Pennsylvania Declaration in the Expedition article by Senior Archivist Alessandro Pezzati, "The Pennsylvania Declaration."

The 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property

The General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, meeting in Paris from October 12th to November 14th, 1970, at its sixteenth session,

RECALLING the importance of the provisions contained in the Declaration of the Principles of International Cultural Co-operation, adopted by the General Conference at its fourteenth session,

CONSIDERING that the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural and educational purposes increases the knowledge of the civilization of Man, enriches the cultural life of all peoples and inspires mutual respect and appreciation among nations,

CONSIDERING that cultural property constitutes one of the basic elements of civilization and national culture, and that its true value can be appreciated only in relation to the fullest possible information regarding its origin, history and traditional setting,

CONSIDERING that it is incumbent upon every State to protect the cultural property existing within its territory against the dangers of theft, clandestine excavation, and illicit export,

CONSIDERING that, to avert these dangers, it is essential for every State to become increasingly alive to the moral obligations to respect its own cultural heritage and that of all nations,

CONSIDERING that, as cultural institutions, museums, libraries and archives should ensure that their collections are built up in accordance with universally recognized moral principles, CONSIDERING that the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property is an obstacle to that understanding between nations which it is part of Unesco's mission to promote by recommending to interested States, international conventions to this end,

CONSIDERING that the protection of cultural heritage can be effective only if organized both nationally and internationally among States working in close co-operation,

CONSIDERING that the Unesco General Conference adopted a Recommendation to this effect in 1964,

HAVING before it further proposals on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property, a question which is on the agenda for the session as item 19,

HAVING decided, at its fifteenth session, that this question should be made the subject of an international convention, ADOPT this Convention on the fourteenth day of November 1970.

Go to the full treaty