Clear Guidelines for the Protection of Cultural Heritage

Some years ago, the Foundation adopted an internal policy on dealing responsibly with ancient artifacts. German law does not yet protect cultural property adequately. The SPK therefore advocates new cultural heritage legislation.

The Foundation advocates the establishment of clear guidelines for the export, trade and acquisition of cultural objects, to be implemented worldwide. Through its participation in various committees and professional associations, it seeks to effect an improvement of the mechanisms for protection at national and international level.

The Foundation's Policy on Ancient Artifacts

Before deciding whether to accept loans or donations, the Foundation investigates the provenance of the objects in question with the greatest possible care. This applies especially to its archaeological collections. It also examines the history of such objects as are already in its collections, with regard to their origins. If it is determined that a particular object has been acquired illegally, the Foundation returns it to its country of origin. The SPK acquired many of its objects as a result of excavations in the nineteenth century, however, often on the basis of the division of archaeological finds. If their acquisition was legal according to the laws of the time, there is no reason to return them.

It is no longer possible to acquire new objects legally in the field of antiquities. Against this background, the Antikensammlung (Collection of Classical Antiquities) has built up a reliable network with museums in the countries of origin of classical archaeological objects. Rather than purchasing such objects, the partner museums arrange long-term mutual loans as a means of presenting and studying the collections of both parties in new ways.

Berlin Resolution

In 2003, the Antikensammlung of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin) hosted an international conference with the title "Illegal Archaeology?". At this conference, the Berlin Resolution was adopted. This formulates principles intended to bolster legitimate trade in archaeological objects and to prevent illegal archaeology. In passing the Berlin Resolution, the conference participants reaffirmed the Berlin Declaration of 1988. In that, the Antikensammlung had called on museums to submit to strict voluntary obligations governing the purchase of archaeological finds. The Antikensammlung itself had already made this commitment years before.

Amendment of Legislation

Many cultural objects are illegally brought to Germany from their countries of origin. Archaeological artifacts, in particular, are seriously threatened around the world by unauthorized excavations and illicit trade. It has so far not been possible, under the laws currently in force in the Federal Republic of Germany, to bring about the return of objects of this kind, which have been illegally exported and are being offered on the German market, to their countries of origin. The Foundation therefore expressly supports the amendment of the current German legislation on the protection of cultural heritage. In particular, any such amendment should clearly define regulations for importing cultural property. This would implement current European and international law.

The amendment has two important objectives: Firstly, only objects with a clear guarantee of origin and an export licence issued by the country of origin may be offered for sale on the German market. Otherwise, they should have to be returned without delay. Secondly, it is necessary to regulate the removal of cultural property of national significance from Germany.

International and European Regulations

Important international and European regulations governing the import and export of cultural property, which have been incorporated in German law:

  • The UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, of 14 November 1970, was ratified and transposed into German law in 2007. The signatory states undertake to prevent illegal trade in antiquities and art objects. Cultural property that unlawfully enters one of the signatory states must be returned.
  • Directive 93/7/EEC of the Council of the European Union was implemented in Germany with the Act on the Return of Cultural Objects, of 15 October 1998. It provides for the return of cultural objects that have been unlawfully removed from the territory of a member state of the European Union.

Act for the Protection of German Cultural Property Against Removal

The provisions of German legislation on cultural heritage protection were altered by the Act to Implement the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Property. The law as it now stands protects nationally significant cultural property and archival material from removal, by recording it in registers. The federal state in which the cultural property or archival material is located is responsible for registering it. Each state maintains its own registers of cultural property and archival material.

The "listing principle", as it is known, has proven to be inadequate for protecting cultural property. It fails to resolve the issues of illegal excavations and illicitly traded antiquities, in particular, because newly excavated antiquities cannot be entered in these lists. Germany's cultural heritage protection legislation therefore offers them no effective protection at present. This situation should be changed fundamentally by amendment of the current legislation, among other measures.