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Cultural Property




Frequently Asked Questions

Case Studies



Case Studies

The following fictional case studies will guide you in dealing with typical situations.

Case 1 | Case 2 | Case 3 | Case 4 | Case 5 | Case 6 | Case 7 | Case 8

If still in doubt, please seek advice.

Case 1

A number of models, constructed by students for project work over the past fifteen years, kept as good examples of students’ work but generally unused, are located during clearance of a room currently being used for storage. There is no information associated with them. The proposal is that they should be thrown away.


Comparing the objects against the criteria in the Cultural Property Checklist suggests that:

  • the quality of the models is not such that their disposal would represent a loss the cultural heritage;
  • they are not worthy of acquisition by a museum; and
  • they have no inherent public interest.

They therefore do not come within the scope of the Cultural Property Policy and can be disposed of, subject to ensuring that UCL is the legal owner of the items.

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Case 2

A long-serving senior member of academic staff, who retained emeritus status (and a desk) at UCL has recently died. In clearing his desk a small box was found, which includes an object believed to be an antiquity.


The 'appointed person' – the staff member responsible for oversight of the Cultural Property Policy in the department concerned - would contact the Advice Point for guidance as to whether the item is truly an antiquity. If the advice is that is, then it falls within the scope of the Policy. A due diligence exercise would be undertaken; if this suggested that the item had been exported illegally or illicitly, and was, by common consent, of more than trivial financial or academic value, efforts would be made to repatriate the object to an appropriate institution in the country of origin. Otherwise, consideration would be given as to whether the item is likely to be a personal possession of the individual (in which case it would need to be passed to the deceased's estate), or whether it was collected in connection with his employment at UCL.

In the latter case, and lacking any provenance, a decision would need to be made as to whether the object should be retained by UCL for teaching or other purposes, which would require the completion of the Permission To Acquire Cultural Property Form, or whether it should be disposed of under the terms of the Cultural Property Policy.

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Case 3

A member of academic staff is approached by a non-UK academic institution to join a research project which will use rare books in the ownership of that institution as a primary source of reference. These books will be made available for use at UCL.


Before accepting the invitation the member of staff should use the Cultural Property Checklist to establish whether the rare books fall within the scope of the policy, being guided by the Advice Point. If this was the case, it would be necessary to use the Permission To Acquire Cultural Property Form to secure permission for the books to be kept at UCL. This would only be allowed if the requirements of para 4.2 of the Policy were met.

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Case 4

A dinner is being planned to raise funds for a new UCL building development. During the event, an auction is to be held, with the lots being gifts from UCL alumni. One of the lots offered for the auction (by an elderly alumnus, in the process of moving a retirement home) is a small picture by a well-known cubist artist, with the information it was purchased by the potential donor at an anonymous sale in Paris in 1952.


As it is not planned that the picture should be acquired or held by UCL on first sight this may not appear to fall within the remit of the Cultural Property Policy.

However, the picture has no provenance since 1952, and the nature of the object and means of acquisition creates the possibility that the item was spoliated in the period leading to, or during, the Second World War. As such, it falls within the general principles of the policy, and has the potential to expose UCL to reputational risk should any claim for ownership be made against the alumnus.

The event's organisers, like all UCL staff, should be aware of the Cultural Property Policy. If enquiry does not demonstrate that the picture and its ownership is well-known, which might make the risk of a claim less likely, the issue of spoliation should be brought to the attention of the alumnus, and the item should be withdrawn from the sale. It would still be open for the alumnus to sell the picture by other means and contribute the proceeds to UCL.

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Case 5

A student works in a vacation on a geological mapping exercise in the UK and brings back a representative suite of rocks, collected in    the field as examples encountered during the project. They are kept in a locker at UCL.   


Rock samples, especially if they are indeterminate, from the UK, and not collected from Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), fall    within the category of ' trivial academic and financial value' in the Cultural Property Policy. In this class, material may be held on UCL premises, even if personal property. Such material does not need to be recorded on the Register. It would be worth retaining detailed information on where the specimens where collected for future reference.

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Case 6

A distinguished teacher receives a package containing a small, finely-executed statuette, apparently of some age, which an accompanying note explains is a personal gift from the parents of a recently graduated student who were deeply appreciative of the help given to their son during his time at UCL.


As a personal gift, not to be held on UCL premises, the statuette would not need to be included on the Cultural Property Register unless it comes within the scope of terms and conditions of employment relating to the acceptance of gifts and thereby is deemed to be offered to UCL.

If the item is to be held on UCL premises, or if the staff member is required by terms of employment or other reasons to give the item to UCL, having confirmed that it meets the definition of cultural property, the permission to acquire form should be completed with a view to it being placed on the Register, having gone through a due diligence process to ensure that it was not illicitly excavated or illegally-exported.

If the due diligence process does reveal that the import of the material is likely to be illicit or illegal, and it is, by common consent, of more than trivial financial or academic value, it should be repatriated to the country of origin.

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Case 7

A packet is delivered by hand at a reception point addressed generally to a university medical department that has a teaching collection. On opening, it is discovered to contain three pieces of tattooed human skin, with an anonymous note saying that they had been in the sender's family since they were acquired (in circumstances unknown) by a seafaring ancestor more than 150 years ago.


If over 100 years old, the skin falls outside of the scope of the Human Tissue Act, but comes within the scope of the Cultural Property Policy and UCL’s Human Remains Policy.

The 'appointed person' should seek guidance from the Advice Point about the appropriate course of action. If it is to be retained in the teaching collection, the Permission To Acquire Cultural Property Form should be completed.

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Case 8

A member of academic staff in UCL is also an honorary member of faculty of a distinguished non-UK university. As a matter of routine, the permanent faculty of that university publish research on palaentological material that has been illicitly exported from their countries of origin. This is justified on the basis that the publication brings the material into the public realm, and if not published the material would be lost to science. Though the research interests of the UCL staff member does not involve her in using such material, her co-workers from the faculty do so on a regular basis.


The staff member concerned has a conflict of interest between UCL and its policies and those policies and practices of the faculty of the overseas institution. UCL’s Cultural Property Policy is binding on staff and students.

The involvement of the UCL staff member with research associated with activities that run counter to the Policy and potentially international law places UCL at a reputation risk. In the light of that, the staff member should consider whether her continued involvement with the overseas faculty is appropriate, if necessary seeking guidance from the Advice Point.

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This page last modified 16 December, 2009 by UCL Cultural Property

Image: Butterflies in the UCL Grant Museum of Zoology | link: UCL Grant Muaseum of Zoology

Image: Fossil fish in the UCL Geology Collection  | link: UCL Geology Collection

Image: Robert Liston's operating table in the UCL Medical Collection

Image: Silver tetradrachm from Athens in the UCL Archaeology Collections | link:  UCL Archaeology Collections

Image: Telescope in the UCL Galton Collection | link: UCL Galton Collection

Image: Fluorescence machine in the UCL Science Collection | link: UCL Science Collection





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