Papyrology: Ethics

Papyri and other inscribed objects are different from most historical manuscripts because they are also archaeological artifacts. As artifacts, they are part of the irreplaceable cultural heritage of the world and their acquisition and international transportation is heavily regulated. As a result, the American Society of Papyrologists (ASP) has adopted a resolution condemning the illicit trade in antiquities, including papyri.

While papyrus was used as a writing material across the ancient Mediterranean and in neighboring areas, virtually all papyri come from Egypt. Unique environmental conditions there preserved them in large quantities for thousands of years until licit and illicit excavation in the 19th and 20th centuries created a market for scholars and collectors.

Since the mid-20th century, Egyptian law has prohibited the removal of papyri and other antiquities from Egypt, except under very limited conditions, and in 1970 a UNESCO Convention severely restricted the international sale and transportation of all cultural property. But the looting of Egyptian archaeological sites continues. This ongoing trade in papyri and artifacts encourages illicit excavation and damages the archaeological record, both of which are contrary to the mission of papyrologists to recover and protect information about the ancient world.

The University of Michigan subscribes to the ASP resolution condemning the illicit trade in antiquities. The Papyrology Collection and its staff will not participate directly (e.g. by selling or purchasing) or indirectly (e.g. by authenticating, conserving, publishing, presenting, or exhibiting) in the trade of undocumented papyri and other inscribed objects. Papyri and other inscribed objects which were acquired after April 24, 1972, and which have no earlier record of provenance and acquisition are considered to be undocumented.

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Last modified: 04/10/2014