Legal and Policy Issues
Edited by Christoph Beat Graber, Karolina Kuprecht and Jessica Christine Lai
Chapter 10: International trade in moveable tangible cultural heritage of indigenous peoples: a European perspective
Indigenous cultural heritage in the form of moveable, tangible objects has been travelling to Europe since the discovery of indigenous peoples’ territories. Treated as curiosities in early times, the objects today form an important part of ethnographic collections kept in European museums, scientific institutions and private collections. They also nourish a flourishing international market in tribal art. Sotheby’s auction sales in tribal art of May 2011 exceeded US$21.8 million and went way beyond prior expectations. At the third ‘Parcours des mondes’ in Paris of 2011, 40 tribal art dealers exhibited and the number of visitors tripled. In the law, indigenous objects qualify as ‘cultural property’ if they are of importance for archaeology, prehistory, history, art or science and thus fall under the broad definition of cultural property according to the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (UNESCO Convention 1970). As such they are protected by national and international cultural property regulations which not only prohibit the damaging and taking of cultural property in times of war, but also punish theft and clandestine excavation in times of peace.
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