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AJA Policy on the Publication and Citation of Unprovenanced Antiquities

On 4 January 2020, the Archaeological Institute of America revised its policy on the presentation and publication of undocumented antiquities (www.archaeological.org/about/governance/policies: “AIA Policy on the Presentation and Publication of Undocumented Antiquities”). The following explains, first, the details of the AIA policy and, second, the policy of the AJA regarding the citation of objects in private and public collections.

AIA Policy on the Presentation and Publication of Undocumented Antiquities

The AIA policy states:

“The publication and presentation venues of the Archaeological Institute of America will not serve for the initial scholarly publication or announcement of any object in a private or public collection acquired after December 30, 1973, unless its existence is documented before that date, or it was legally exported from the country of origin. An exception may be made if, in the view of the Editor or Program Committee, the aim of publication is to emphasize the loss of archaeological context or acquisition history.”

According to this policy, an object in a private or public collection may appear in a publication or presentation venue of the AIA if (a) the object was acquired by the collection before 30 December 1973, or (b) the existence of the object is documented before that date, or (c) the object was legally exported from the country of origin, or (d) the object has previously received appropriate initial scholarly publication or announcement. The revised policy of the AIA defines the kind of vehicle or venue in which an appropriate initial scholarly publication or announcement must appear and specifies what information the initial publication or announcement must include.

According to the revised AIA policy, the vehicle or venue of the initial scholarly publication or announcement of an object in a private or public collection must be one of the following:

  • A peer-reviewed or similarly vetted publication in a scholarly book or journal, either in print or online.
  • The permanent and accessible record (e.g., published abstract or conference proceeding) of a peer-reviewed or similarly vetted presentation (either a paper delivered orally or a poster) at a meeting of a learned society.
  • A peer-reviewed or similarly vetted publication in a scholarly catalogue, either in print or online. “Scholarly catalogue” in this context refers to a catalogue of accessioned objects produced by an academically affiliated or educationally oriented organization (e.g., a museum catalogue) and not to a catalogue produced by a for-profit and/or commercial organization (e.g., an auction house catalogue).

The initial scholarly publication or announcement of an object in a private or public collection must include (1) an illustration (e.g., a photograph, a drawing, or a similar graphic), (2) commentary specific to the object (such as its dimensions and a description that includes, as applicable, material(s), details of ware, decoration, production technology, etc.). Initial scholarly publication or announcement of epigraphic material should also include (3) a transcription, and (4) if appropriate, a translation.

An object in a private or public collection that was acquired after 30 December 1973, that is not documented before that date, or that was not legally exported from the country of origin is considered unprovenanced. Such an unprovenanced object, if it has received prior initial scholarly publication or announcement, may be mentioned in a publication or presentation venue of the AIA. However, each mention of such an unprovenanced object must include the designation “[unprov.],” and the first mention of an unprovenanced object must be accompanied by a reference to the initial scholarly publication or announcement and by the following statement: “This object was acquired after 30 December 1973; there is no evidence of its documentation before that date or its legal export from the country of origin.”

Citation in the AJA of Objects in Private and Public Collections

An object in a private or public collection may be mentioned, cited, discussed, and illustrated in the AJA if (a) it was acquired by the collection before 30 December 1973, (b) its existence is documented before 30 December 1973, (c) it was legally exported from the country of origin, or (d) it has previously received appropriate initial scholarly publication or announcement.

An object may not be mentioned, cited, discussed, or illustrated in the AJA if it was acquired by a private or public collection after 30 December 1973 and its existence is not documented before that date, or it was not legally exported from the country of origin, or it has not previously received appropriate initial scholarly publication or announcement. An exception may be made if, in the view of the AJA’s Editor-in-Chief, the aim of publication is to emphasize the loss of archaeological context or acquisition history.

How to cite an object in a private or public collection

A chart summarizing if and how an object in a public or private collection may appear in the AJA is reproduced below and may be separately downloaded here.

CHART: If and how an object in a public or private collection may appear in the AJA

The citation of any object in a private or public collection must include the basic identification of the object and additional information as required by the documentation of the object.

The basic identification consists of the city in which the collection is located, the name of the institution or collection, the accession or inventory number, and the year in which the object was acquired by the collection. (The acquisition date should be stated separately even when a museum accession number includes the year in which an object was acquired.) If the year in which the object was acquired is unknown or not available, the citation should include “acq. date n/a.” The following examples illustrate the types of citation needed depending on the date of acquisition, prior documentation, evidence of legal exportation, and previous initial scholarly publication or announcement.

  • The object was acquired before 30 December 1973. The first mention of the object should be accompanied by a footnote with the basic identification of the object.

Footnote: City, Museum of Ancient Art 1965-632, acq. 1965.

  • The object was acquired after 30 December 1973, but its existence is documented before that date. The first mention of the object should be accompanied by a footnote with the basic identification and the citation of the documentation of the object’s existence before 30 December 1973. The citation of the documentation should follow the standard AJA format for references (see www.ajaonline.org/submissions/references).

Footnote: City, Museum of Ancient Art 1984-632, acq. 1984; see Smith 1955.

Works cited: Smith, J. 1955. “An Object in a Private Collection of Antiquities.” Journal of Ancient Art 26:19–31.

  • The acquisition date of an object in a private or public collection is not available, but the existence of the object is documented before 30 December 1973. The first mention of the object should be accompanied by a footnote with the basic identification and the citation of the documentation of the object’s existence before 30 December 1973.

Footnote: City, Museum of Ancient Art GR-632, acq. date n/a; see Smith 1955.

Works cited: Smith, J. 1955. “An Object in a Private Collection of Antiquities.” Journal of Ancient Art 26:19–31.

  • The object was acquired after 30 December 1973, but the object was legally exported from the country of origin. The first mention of the object should be accompanied by a footnote with the basic identification and the citation of the evidence for the object’s legal exportation.

Footnote: City, Museum of Ancient Art GR-632, acq. 1985; legally exported from

Greece on 15 February 1985 (Permit for Export of an Antiquity #84723).

  • The object was acquired after 30 December 1973 (or the acquisition date is not available), and there is no documentation of the object before that date or evidence that the object was legally exported from the country of origin. However, the object has received initial scholarly publication or announcement (as defined by the AIA) after 30 December 1973. In this case, the object is considered unprovenanced. The first mention of the object should be accompanied by a footnote with the basic identification followed by the designation “[unprov.],” the statement of no provenance (“This object was acquired after 30 December 1973; there is no evidence of its documentation before that date or its legal export from the country of origin"), and the citation of the initial scholarly publication or announcement of the object. If the object also appears in the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) Registry of New Acquisitions of Archaeological Material and Works of Ancient Art, the reference should include a link to the relevant entry.

In subsequent discussions of the object in the text or notes, the object should consistently be accompanied by the designation “[unprov.].”

Footnote: City, Museum of Ancient Art GR-632, acq. 1985 [unprov.]. This object was acquired after 30 December 1973; there is no evidence of its documentation before that date or its legal export from the country of origin. See Smith 1988. https://aamd.org/object-registry/new-acquisitions-of-archaeological-mate....

Or: City, Museum of Ancient Art GR-632, acq. date n/a [unprov.]. This object may have been acquired after 30 December 1973; there is no evidence of its documentation before that date or its legal export from the country of origin. See Smith 1988. https://aamd.org/object-registry/new-acquisitions-of-archaeological-mate....

Works cited: Smith, J. 1988. “An Object in the Museum of Ancient Art.” Journal of Ancient Art 59:19–31.

Some objects will not correspond to any of the examples above. For instance, objects scientifically and legally excavated may as a matter of course become the property of a museum in the country of origin. Such legally excavated objects that are acquired after 30 December 1973 by a museum in the country of origin do, of course, have a provenance and may be mentioned, cited, discussed, and illustrated in the AJA. The first mention of such an object should be accompanied by a footnote with the basic identification and the documentation of its excavation.

Footnote: City, Archaeological Museum of Ancient Art 2012-632, acq. 2012. Excavated at Site Name; see Smith 2015, 498.

Works cited: Smith, J. 2015. “Excavations at Site Name.” Journal of Archaeology 119:482–512.

For objects not covered by the examples above, authors should consult with the editorial staff of the AJA.