Towards an Ethical Framework for Ancient World Studies

A framework drafted by Rachel Yuen-Collingridge, Malcolm Choat, Lauren Dundler, and Richard Bott, as a set of principles to guide our own work.


Respect the self-determination of others, whether they be communities, peoples, individuals, nations, now or at any stage of the past. 

Seek out and value other modes of knowledge and ways of understanding the past, especially those of all relevant stakeholders, and in dialogue and collaboration with those stakeholders.

Contribute positively and meaningfully to the wellbeing of communities, peoples, individuals, nations through research and teaching.  

Acknowledge that best practice is not determined by legality, but by broader notions of harm.

These principles are to be enacted through practice:

  • Educate ourselves as a discipline on the uses of the ancient world in contemporary society across the world and combat such misuses as we encounter.
  • Explicitly acknowledge when ancient works, ideas, and practices contravene contemporary ethical standards in teaching, engagement, and research, as well as combat the misuse of ancient ideas to promote harm.
  • Educate within and beyond the academy about the consequences of engagement with the antiquities trade both for the antiquities themselves, those involved in the trade, and source countries and local communities.
  • Promote respect for intangible cultural heritage and the privacy of individuals and communities where evidence exists of their efforts to restrict access or the distribution of information.
  • Do not engage in the valuation, authentication, or provision of information (including translation, description, etc.) of artefacts which are immediately destined or are intended to be placed on the antiquities market, in so far as can be ascertained at the time of engagement.
  • Do not engage in activities which contravene the explicit and implicit (where a well-documented cultural prohibition is apparent) wishes of an ancient person or community by publishing, photographing, filming, scanning, exhibiting, exhuming, testing, disseminating, modifying, or otherwise disturbing the integrity of ancient cultural artefacts, human remains, and environments.
  • Provide ethical alternatives to the market for broader engagement with the ancient world.
  • Undertake thorough investigation of the provenance, provenience, and authenticity of any artefact being presented or published and make this information publicly available.
  • Do not publish or present artefacts that are illicit in terms of the laws of the nation states in which they were found and according to international conventions or for which the country of origin or discovery cannot be determined. Exceptions can be made for publications which include such antiquities by way of drawing attention to the destruction of cultural heritage or the illicit trade in antiquities.
  • Audit established institutional and private collections for the presence of antiquities that have been acquired illegally or through otherwise compromised circumstances.
  • Investigate and make available to the public accounts of the acquisition of all objects housed in institutions and private collections.
  • Collaborate with competent authorities concerning the return and or guardianship of illicit artefacts.
  • Include provenance and provenience details on museum labels, in catalogues, academic and popular publications, and online databases.
  • Provide opportunities for members of the public of all nations (especially those whose cultural heritage is the focus of study) to engage with artefacts for free, either through online digital repositories or through regular free access to institutions and collections.