Haggai Mor

Application of property law to archaeological collections in England

This research examines implication of property law on archaeological collections in England. Archaeological collections encapsulate material representations of people’s heritage. The ownership of such artefacts assemblages can confer the power of interpreting the past on whomever holds these collections, therefore it is important to determine their ownership. Within English archaeology it is assumed that title to finds assemblages remain with the owner of the land where the finds were found. As asserted by the Institute For Archaeologists: “In England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man ownership of objects rests with the landowner, except where other law overrides this (e.g. Treasure Act, 1996, Burials Act 1857).” (Institute For Archaeologists (IFA) Code of Conduct, paragraph 3.8.2 obtained from IFA website on August 2011).

In legal terms, this research deals with a bailment situation arising from archaeologists taking possession of chattels to which they do not have superior title. This bailment might then lead to tort trespass to goods because archaeologists transfer possession of such collections to national archives repositories. In accordance with the principle of nemo dat qoud non habit, since archaeologists do not obtain title in finds assemblages, when they deposit finds in archives they can only transfer possession of the collection but not title to it. In effect this could mean that national archaeological archives do not have entitlement to possess parts of the collection of artefacts they are storing. This then gives rise to more fundamental questions of whether the right of individual landowners supersedes the right of the community in which they live in respect of ownership of archaeological material. To put it another way: should archaeologists be regarded as stewards of the past and have the authority to remove property from people’s land, and do landowners forfeit ownership of their property purely by giving consent for an archaeological investigation to take place?


 Educational background

  • BSc, Archaeology, UCL Institute of Archaeology
  • MA, Artefacts Studies, UCL Institute of Archaeology
  • Seminar: Legal issues relating to ownership of finds from archaeological sites. July 14th 2010. Museum of London.

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