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Ethical Conservation Concerns

March 20th, 2013

Ethical Conservation Concerns

Alyssa Reisner

            There are many ethical considerations within the discipline of conservation. One such consideration involves the publication of unprovenanced archaeological objects. Some archaeologists think that these objects should never be published or cited in print because it “indirectly supports illicit trafficking of antiquity” (Argyropoulos, Charalambous, Polikreti, & Simon 2011:214).  Others, however, believe that “conservators’ technical and/or scientific study of such material helps to fight against criminal activity by identifying fakes and forgers” (Argyropoulos et. al. 2011:214). 

            Today, the illicit antiquities trade is considered to be one of the largest illegal businesses worldwide (Argyropoulos et. al. 2011). Falsified documents made to demonstrate authenticity are not often questioned or are hard to expose, and this often results in illegitimately obtained items being displayed in privately or publicly funded museums (Argyropoulos et. al. 2011). Conservators use scientific studies of objects in order to obtain results that may authenticate them or “increase their monetary value through publication” (Argyropoulos et. al. 2011).

            These outcomes seem to warrant a set of standards or an ethical code to be drafted and ultimately ratified concerning ethics of the practice of conservation. In 2011, it was noted that “research and publication in conservation currently do not provide ethical reviews when studies involve such problematic material in order to ensure scientific integrity of the results” (Argyropoulos et. al. 2011).

With every controversial topic, there are pros and cons of each opinion involved, and it is important to consider the different viewpoints. Though it is important to discourage illicit antiquities trafficking, it is also important to identify authenticity from forgery. Possibly, ethical standards could be established to try to safeguard against antiquities trafficking. Although the questionable practice of publishing information concerning unprovenanced objects may continue, there could also be information published about the importance of prohibiting illicit trafficking of antiquities. Perhaps a system could be introduced in order to verify whether documents certifying authenticity are genuine. Bearing all of this in mind, it seems important to set ethical standards concerning research and scientific publication of information regarding cultural objects.


Argyropoulos, Vasilike, Dimitris Charalambous, Kyriaki Polikreti, and Stefan Simon. “Ethical Issues in Research and Publication of Illicit Cultural Property.” Journal of Cultural Heritage. 12. no. 2 (2011): 214-219.



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