The European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage

By O'Keefe, Patrick J. | Antiquity, June 1993 | Go to article overview

The European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage


O'Keefe, Patrick J., Antiquity


In January 1992, 20 States signed the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (Revised) which is intended to replace the original Convention of 1969. Signature indicates that States agree on the actual text that was before the meeting where the Convention was considered, in this case the Third European Conference of Ministers Responsible for the Cultural Heritage. It obliges States not to do anything actively contrary to the provisions of the Convention. However, States are not bound by the Convention until they ratify it. As at June 1992 no States had yet ratified the Revised Convention, but this is understandable as it usually takes at least six months for such a process to be completed even by the most enthusiastic of States.

The 1969 European Convention

The origins of the 1969 Convention are convoluted. The agenda for the fifth session of the Council for Cultural Co-operation in 1964 contained the topic 'Protection of the European archaeological heritage and regulation of the trade in archaeological finds'. The initial move for consideration of these issues came from the Italian delegation, which had announced its intention of submitting a draft European convention designed to control unlawful export and import of cultural property. The Italian initiative was aimed at exposing the danger to European archaeological sites posed by clandestine diggings 'fostered by the illicit export of and traffic in antiquities'. The Committee decided to investigate what steps should be taken to deal with these problems. An Italian expert, Massimo Pallottino, was engaged to prepare a report based on replies to a questionnaire sent to Governments. The report advocated an approach based on stringent controls over trade in antiquities in order to remedy the then existing situation in respect of clandestine excavation. Once this was done, reasoned the Report, ownership and trade could once again be liberalized (Pallottino 1965).

The Council for Cultural Co-operation established a Working Party to draft a Convention but what ultimately emerged contained little on the problem of unlawful traffic and its repression. The 1969 Convention is mainly concerned with archaeological excavation and extraction of information from those excavations. It entered into force in 1970; the following States are currently party to it: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Holy See, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Pressures for revision

The 1969 Convention did not deal adequately with the major problem of clandestine excavation, nor did it foresee the impact of multitudinous large-scale construction projects. During the past two decades Europe has experienced the development of ever-bigger motorway networks, underground railways and high-speed train routes, huge car parks and high-rise buildings. New forms of treatment have been applied to the land itself with changes in methods of agriculture, e.g. consolidation of fields and holdings, deep ploughing and levelling. All of these threaten the archaeological heritage through their disturbance of the sub-soil. The web of law and legislation involved is complex: specific legislation applied to antiquities and archaeology; general cultural heritage legislation; environmental legislation; town planning; public works; building regulations etc.

Recommendation No. R(89)5

Two Colloquia addressing the problems raised were staged by the Council of Europe: one on Archaeology and planning at Florence in 1984; the other on Archaeology and major public works at Nice in 1987. The Conclusions of the latter included guidelines for the preparation of a Council of Europe Recommendation on the desirable relationship between development and the archaeological heritage. In April of 1989 the Committee of Ministers adopted a Recommendation Concerning the Protection and Enhancement of the Archaeological Heritage in the Context of Town and Country Planning Operations. …

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