James Cuno on UNESCO’s treaty on antiquities

In an interview in Science News, James Cuno speaks out about the 1970 “Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property” (text).  I hope to look more closely at the Convention in a future post, but for now I just want to focus on its definition and classification of “cultural property”, a sticky issue in repatriation cases.

For the purposes of this Convention, the term ‘cultural property’ means property which, on religious or secular grounds, is specifically designated by each State as being of importance for archaeology, prehistory, history, literature, art or science and which belongs to the following categories:
(a) Rare collections and specimens of fauna, flora, minerals and anatomy, and objects of palaeontological interest;
(b) property relating to history, including the history of science and technology and military and social history, to the life of national leaders, thinkers, scientists and artist and to events of national importance;
(c) products of archaeological excavations (including regular and clandestine)
or of archaeological discoveries ;
(d) elements of artistic or historical monuments or archaeological sites which have been dismembered;
(e) antiquities more than one hundred years old, such as inscriptions, coins and engraved seals;
(f) objects of ethnological interest;
(g) property of artistic interest, such as:
(i) pictures, paintings and drawings produced entirely by hand on any support and in any material (excluding industrial designs and manu-factured articles decorated by hand);
(ii) original works of statuary art and sculpture in any material;
(iii) original engravings, prints and lithographs ;
(iv) original artistic assemblages and montages in any material;
(h) rare manuscripts and incunabula, old books, documents and publications of special interest (historical, artistic, scientific, literary, etc.) singly or in collections ;
(i) postage, revenue and similar stamps, singly or in collections;
(j) archives, including sound, photographic and cinematographic archives;
(k) articles of furniture more than one hundred years old and old musical instruments.

The definition is incredibly thorough. I wonder about the 100 year mark included in (e) and (k), the time frame seems a little arbitrary. Are objects less than a century old somehow not cultural property?

The text of (j) is also quite interesting. Defining intangible cultural property always seems like a much more complicated issue than with physical objects, with valid reason. I’ll be taking a closer look at this treaty as well as at the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (text) sometime in the future.

(via Looting Matters)


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