In 1973—a decade before the U.S. Congress passed legislation incorporating elements of the 1970 UNESCO Convention into U.S. law—AAMD passed a resolution urging members to cooperate with foreign countries to prevent illegal trafficking in art as described in the new UNESCO Convention.
In 2004, AAMD issued guidelines for its members regarding the future acquisition of archaeological material and ancient art. The heart of the document reinforced the need for transparency in acquisitions, the strict observance of U.S. law, and specific procedures to allow acquisitions to continue if, after due diligence, no information came to light that stood in the way of purchases, gifts, or bequests. As part of the larger global dialogue taking place, AAMD’s guidelines helped stimulate discussions about the role of responsible collecting by museums and the importance of a licit market.
AAMD determined it should refine the 2004 guidelines to affirm more clearly and tangibly its members’ commitment to helping protect and preserve archaeological resources worldwide, and to strengthen the principles and standards used in making decisions regarding the acquisition of archeological materials and ancient art. The results, reflected in the 2008 guidelines are:
- The adoption of November 1970, the date of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import and Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, as an important threshold date when considering an acquisition;
- Research protocols that are even more rigorous than those included in the previous guidelines; and
- The establishment of this searchable Object Registry, which ensures an even higher level of public transparency for members’ acquisitions.
In 2013, AAMD issued revisions to the 2008 Guidelines on the Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art. The changes in the 2013 revisions focus on specific aspects of the guidelines, as follows:
- The existing requirement to post information about new acquisitions of archaeological materials and ancient art to AAMD’s Object Registry has been clarified: members must now post all provenance information of which the museum is aware, as well as specific details about how the acquisition meets the standards of the guidelines.
- At the same time, the AAMD Object Registry has been strengthened by making posts to the Registry a requirement of AAMD’s Code of Ethics.
- The revised guidelines provide more detail about the considerations to be taken into account when deciding whether to acquire a work that is either archeological material or ancient art.
- The guidelines also address an area that was not covered in the 2008 report: guidance on the handling of promised gifts and estate plans made before the 2008 report was issued. The revised guidelines state that gifts promised and bequests made prior to 2008 can be accepted provided they are posted to the Object Registry when accessioned into a museum’s collection.