on International Principles
Applicable to Archaeological Excavations
governing excavations and international collaboration
of clandestine excavations and of the illicit export of archaeological finds
in occupied territory
The General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organization, meeting at New Delhi, from 5 November to 5
December 1956, at its ninth session,
Being of the opinion that the surest guarantee for the preservation of
monuments and works of the past rests in the respect and affection felt
for them by the peoples themselves, and persuaded that such feelings may
be greatly strengthened by adequate measures inspired by the wish of Member
States to develop science and international relations,
Convinced that the feelings aroused by the contemplation and study of
works of the past do much to foster mutual understanding between nations,
and that it is therefore highly desirable to secure international co-operation
with regard to them and to further, in every possible way, the fulfilment
of their social mission,
Considering that, while individual States are more directly concerned
with the archaeological discoveries made on their territory, the international
community as a whole is nevertheless the richer for such discoveries,
Considering that the history of man implies the knowledge of all different
civilizations; and that it is therefore necessary, in the general interest,
that all archaeological remains be studied and, where possible, preserved
and taken into safe keeping,
Convinced that it is highly desirable that the national authorities responsible
for the protection of the archaeological heritage should be guided by
certain common principles which have been tested by experience and put
into practice by national archaeological services,
Being of the opinion that, though the regulation of excavations is first
and foremost for the domestic jurisdiction of each State, this principle
should be brought into harmony with that of a liberally understood and
freely accepted international co-operation,
Having before it proposals concerning international principles applicable
to archaeological excavations, which constitute item 9.4.3 on the agenda
of the session,
Having decided at its eighth session, that these proposals should be
regulated at the international level by way of a recommendation to Member
States, Adopts, this fifth day of December 1956, the following Recommendation:
The General Conference recommends that Member States should apply the
following provisions by taking whatever legislative or other steps may
be required to give effect, within their respective territories, to the
principles and norms formulated in the present Recommendation.
The General Conference recommends that Member States should bring the
present Recommendation to the knowledge of authorities and organizations
concerned with archaeological excavations and museums.
The General Conference recommends that Member States should report to
it, on dates and in a manner to be determined by it, on the action which
they have taken to give effect to the present Recommendation
1. For the purpose of the present Recommendation, by archaeological
excavations is meant any research aimed at the discovery of objects of
archaeological character, whether such research involves digging of the
ground or systematic exploration of its surface or is carried out on the
bed or in the sub-soil of inland or territorial waters of a Member State.
2. The provisions of the present Recommendation apply to any remains,
whose preservation is in the public interest from the point of view of
history or art and architecture, each Member State being free to adopt
the most appropriate criterion for assessing the public interest of objects
found on its territory. In particular, the provisions of the present Recommendation
should apply to any monuments and movable or immovable objects of archaeological
interest considered in the widest sense.
3. The criterion adopted for assessing the public interest of archaeological
remains might vary according to whether it is a question of the preservation
of such property, or of the excavator's or finder's obligation to declare
(a) In the former case, the criterion based on preserving all objects
originating before a certain date should be abandoned, and replaced by
one whereby protection is extended to all objects belonging to a given
period or of a minimum age fixed by law.
(b) In the latter case, each Member State should adopt far wider criteria,
compelling the excavator or finder to declare any object, of archaeological
character, whether movable or immovable, which he may discover.
II. General principles
Protection of the archaeological heritage
4. Each Member State should ensure the protection of its archaeological
heritage, taking fully into account problems arising in connexion with
excavations, and in conformity with the provisions of the present Recommendation.
5. Each Member State should in particular:
(a) Make archaeological explorations and excavations subject to prior
authorization by the competent authority;
(b) Oblige any person finding archaeological remains to declare them
at the earliest possible date to the competent authority;
(c) Impose penalties for the infringement of these regulations;
(d) Make undeclared objects subject to confiscation;
(e) Define the legal status of the archaeological sub-soil and, where
State ownership of the said sub-soil is recognized, specifically mention
the fact in its legislation;
(f) Consider classifying as historical monuments the essential elements
of its archaeological heritage.
Protecting body: archaeological excavations
6. Although differences of tradition and unequal financial resources
make it impossible for all Member States to adopt a uniform system of
organization in the administrative services responsible for excavations,
certain common principles should nevertheless apply to all national archaeological
(a) The archaeological service should, so far as possible, be a central
State administration--or at any rate an organization provided by law with
the necessary means for carrying out any emergency measures that may be
required. In addition to the general administration of archaeological
work, this service should co-operate with research institutes and universities
in the technical training of excavators. This body should also set up
a central documentation, including maps, of its movable and immovable
monuments and additional documentation for every important museum or ceramic
or iconographic collection, etc.
(b) Steps should be taken to ensure in particular the regular provision
of funds: (i) to administer the services in a satisfactory manner; (ii)
to carry out a programme of work proportionate to the archaeological resources
of the country, including scientific publications; (iii) to exercise control
over accidental discoveries; (iv) to provide for the upkeep of excavation
sites and monuments.
7. Careful supervision should be exercised by each Member State over the
restoration of archaeological remains and objects discovered.
8. Prior approval should be obtained from the competent authority for
the removal of any monuments which ought to be preserved in situ.
9. Each Member State should consider maintaining untouched, partially
or totally, a certain number of archaeological sites of different periods
in order that their excavation may benefit from improved techniques and
more advanced archaeological knowledge. On each of the larger sites now
being excavated, in so far as the nature of the land permits, well defined
'witness' areas might be left unexcavated in several places in order to
allow for eventual verification of the stratigraphy and archaeological
composition of the site.
Formation of central and regional collections
10. Inasmuch as archaeology is a comparative science, account should
be taken, in the setting up and organizing of museums and reserve collections,
of the need for facilitating the work of comparison as much as possible.
For this purpose, central and regional collections might be formed or,
in exceptional cases, local collections on particularly important archaeological
sites--in preference to small scattered collections, accessible to comparatively
few people. These establishments should command, on a permanent basis,
the administrative facilities and scientific staff necessary to ensure
the preservation of the exhibits.
11. On important archaeological sites, a small exhibit of an educational
nature--possibly a museum--should be set up to convey to visitors the
interest of the archaeological remains.
Education of the public
12. The competent authority should initiate educational measures in order
to arouse and develop respect and affection for the remains of the past
by the teaching of history, the participation of students in certain excavations,
the publication in the press of archaeological information supplied by
recognized specialists, the organization of guided tours, exhibitions
and lectures dealing with methods of excavation and results achieved,
the clear display of archaeological sites explored and monuments discovered,
and the publication of cheap and simply written monographs and guides.
In order to encourage the public to visit these sites, Member States should
make all necessary arrangements to facilitate access to them.
III. Regulations governing excavations and international
Authority to excavate granted to foreigners
13. Each Member State on whose territory excavations are to take place
should lay down general rules governing the granting of excavation concessions,
the conditions to be observed by the excavator, in particular as concerns
the supervision exercised by the national authorities, the period of the
concession, the reasons which may justify its withdrawal, the suspension
of work, or its transfer from the authorized excavator to the national
14. The conditions imposed upon a foreign excavator should be those applicable
to nationals. Consequently, the deed of concession should omit special
stipulations which are not imperative.
15. In the higher interest of archaeology and of international collaboration,
Member States should encourage excavations by a liberal policy. They might
allow qualified individuals or learned bodies, irrespective of nationality,
to apply on an equal footing for the concession to excavate. Member States
should encourage excavations carried out by joint missions of scientists
from their own country and of archaeologists representing foreign institutions,
or by international missions.
16. When a concession is granted to a foreign mission, the representative
of the conceding State--if such be appointed--should, as far as possible,
also be an archaeologist capable of helping the mission and collaborating
17. Member States which lack the necessary resources for the organization
of archaeological excavations in foreign countries should be accorded
facilities for sending archaeologists to sites being worked by other Member
States, with the consent of the director of excavations.
18. A Member State whose technical or other resources are insufficient
for the scientific carrying out of an excavation should be able to call
on the participation of foreign experts or on a foreign mission to undertake
19. Authority to carry out excavations should be granted only to institutions
represented by qualified archaeologists or to persons offering such unimpeachable
scientific, moral and financial guarantees as to ensure that any excavations
will be completed in accordance with the terms of the deed of concession
and within the period laid down.
20. On the other hand, when authority to carry out excavations is granted
to foreign archaeologists, it should guarantee them a period of work long
enough, and conditions of security sufficient to facilitate their task
and protect them from unjustified cancellation of the concession in the
event, for instance, of their being obliged, for reasons recognized as
valid, to interrupt their work for a given period of time.
Preservation of archaeological remains
21. The deed of concession should define the obligations of the excavator
during and on completion of his work. The deed should, in particular,
provide for guarding, maintenance and restoration of the site together
with the conservation, during and on completion of his work, of objects
and monuments uncovered. The deed should moreover indicate what help if
any the excavator might expect from the conceding State in the discharge
of his obligations should these prove too onerous.
Access to excavation sites
22. Qualified experts of any nationality should be allowed to visit a
site before a report of the work is published and with the consent of
the director of excavations, even during the work. This privilege should
in no case jeopardize the excavator's scientific rights in his finds.
Assignment of finds
23. (a) Each Member State should clearly define the principles which
hold good on its territory in regard to the disposal of finds from excavations.
(b) Finds should be used, in the first place, for building up, in the
museums of the country in which excavations are carried out, complete
collections fully representative of that country's civilization, history,
art and architecture.
(c) With the main object of promoting archaeological studies through
the distribution of original material, the conceding authority, after
scientific publication, might consider allocating to the approved excavator
a number of finds from his excavation, consisting of duplicates or, in
a more general sense, of objects or groups of objects which can be released
in view of their similarity to other objects from the same excavation.
The return to the excavator of objects resulting from excavations should
always be subject to the condition that they be allocated within a specified
period of time to scientific centres open to the public, with the proviso
that if these conditions are not put into effect, or cease to be carried
out, the released objects will be returned to the conceding authority.
(d) Temporary export of finds, excluding objects which are exceptionally
fragile or of national importance, should be authorized on requests emanating
from a scientific institution of public or private character if the study
of these finds in the conceding State is not possible because of lack
of bibliographical or scientific facilities, or is impeded by difficulties
(e) Each Member State should consider ceding to, exchanging with, or
depositing in foreign museums objects which are not required in the national
Scientific rights; rights and obligations of the excavator
24. (a) The conceding State should guarantee to the excavator scientific
rights in his finds for a reasonable period.
(b) The conceding State should require the excavator to publish the results
of his work within the period stipulated in the deed, or, failing such
stipulations, within a reasonable period. This period should not exceed
two years for the preliminary report. For a period of five years following
the discovery, the competent archaeological authorities should undertake
not to release the complete collection of finds, nor the relative scientific
documentation, for detailed study, without the written authority of the
excavator. Subject to the same conditions, these authorities should also
prevent photographic or other reproduction of archaeological material
still unpublished. In order to allow, should it be so desired, for simultaneous
publication of the preliminary report in both countries, the excavator
should, on demand, submit a copy of his text to these authorities.
(c) Scientific publications dealing with archaeological research and
issued in a language which is not widely used should include a summary
and, if possible, a list of contents and captions of illustrations translated
into some more widely known language.
Documentation on excavations
25. Subject to the provisions set out in paragraph 24, the national archaeological
services should, as far as possible, make their documentation and reserve
collections of archaeological material readily available for inspection
and study to excavators and qualified experts, especially those who have
been granted a concession for a particular site or who wish to obtain
Regional meetings and scientific discussions
26. In order to facilitate the study of problems of common interest,
Member States might, from time to time, convene regional meetings attended
by representatives of the archaeological services of interested States.
Similarly, each Member State might encourage excavators working on its
soil to meet for scientific discussions.
IV. Trade in antiquities
27. In the higher interests of the common archaeological heritage, each
Member State should consider the adoption of regulations to govern the
trade in antiquities so as to ensure that this trade does not encourage
smuggling of archaeological material or affect adversely the protection
of sites and the collecting of material for public exhibit.
28. Foreign museums should, in order to fulfil their scientific and educational
aims, be able to acquire objects which have been released from any restrictions
due to the laws in force in the country of origin.
V. Repression of clandestine excavations and of
the illicit export of archaeological finds
Protection of archaeological sites against clandestine excavations and
29. Each Member State should take all necessary measures to prevent clandestine
excavations and damage to monuments defined in paragraphs 2 and 3 above,
and also to prevent the export of objects thus obtained.
International co-operation in repressive measures
30. All necessary measures should be taken in order that museums to which
archaeological objects are offered ascertain that there is no reason to
believe that these objects have been procured by clandestine excavation,
theft or any other method regarded as illicit by the competent authorities
of the country of origin. Any suspicious offer and all details appertaining
thereto should be brought to the attention of the services concerned.
When archaeological objects have been acquired by museums, adequate details
allowing them to be identified and indicating the manner of their acquisition
should be published as soon as possible.
Return of objects to their country of origin
31. Excavation services and museums should lend one another assistance
in order to ensure or facilitate the recovery of objects derived from
clandestine excavations or theft, and of all objects exported in infringement
of the legislation of the country of origin. It is desirable that each
Member State should take the necessary measures to ensure this recovery.
These principles should be applied in the event of temporary exports as
mentioned in paragraph 23(c), (d) and (e) above, if the objects are not
returned within the stipulated period.
VI. Excavations in occupied territory
32. In the event of armed conflict, any Member State occupying the territory
of another State should refrain from carrying out archaeological excavations
in the occupied territory. In the event of chance finds being made, particularly
during military works, the occupying Power should take all possible measures
to protect these finds, which should be handed over, on the termination
of hostilities, to the competent authorities of the territory previously
occupied, together with all documentation relating thereto.
VII. Bilateral agreements
33. Member States should, whenever necessary or desirable, conclude bilateral
agreements to deal with matters of common interest arising out of the
application of the present Recommendation.
The foregoing is the authentic text of the Recommendation duly adopted
by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organization during its Ninth Session, which was held at
New Delhi and declared closed the fifth day of December 1956.
IN FAITH WHEREOF we have appended our signatures this fifth day of December
The President of the General Conference The Director-General