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02 septembre 2019
La datation radiocarbone et la protection de l'héritage culturel

The modern antiquities market uses radiocarbon (14C) dating to screen for forged objects. Although this fact shows the potential and power of the method, the circumstances where it is applied can be questionable and call for our attention. Here we present an outline of a call to radiocarbon laboratories for due diligence and best practice approaches to the analysis of antique objects requested by non-research clients.
Protection of cultural heritage is considered one of the most important national and international goals. Each nation has the right to protect their past and present cultural goods, both tangible and intangible. The fact that international involvement is needed has been recognized since the early 20th century. The need for protection of culture is essential for building peace as it was stated by founders of the UNESCO when it was established in Nov.– Dec. 1945. In 1970 a UNESCO Convention on the protection of cultural heritage was adopted and ratified by most of the countries. Concerns of the post-WWII era were with the destruction of cultural heritage that wars and crises impose on whole communities (Gerstenblith 2008).
The present-day antiquities trade is operating in a world that is far from being free of conflicts and wars. It is a most striking fact that the remains of old cultures and civilizations are located and endangered by conflicts and looting. Illicit trade of antique objects is driven by the demand for antiquities in countries outside of conflicts. Huysecom et al. (2017) have shown that on the part of buyer this demand is accompanied by the need for a secure investment. Whenever possible, antiquities on the market are tested using scientific methods such as thermoluminescence (TL) and radiocarbon (14C) dating. However, the use of the scientific techniques and involvement in authentication appears questionable and raises ethical issues similar to those faced by conservators (Sease 1998).
The radiocarbon community has recognized this problem and is committed to following due diligence protocols, which will help to minimize the involvement of laboratories in providing data for illegally displaced antiquities.
Here, we propose the first measures that can help to minimize access of the illicit market to radiocarbon analysis and to prevent misuse of 14C ages in promotion of illicit trade and looting. This would also protect the radiocarbon laboratories. These procedures are proposed to be applied when the analysis is requested by private persons or for-profit organizations such as auction houses, antiquity dealers, and private collections (sometimes private museums).

Référence : Hajdas I., Jull A.J.T., …, Hatté C., ….Beck L., …., 2019. Radiocarbon dating and the protection of cultural heritage. Radiocarbon 61, 1133-1134. Doi:10.107/RDC.2019.100

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