Institute of Archaeology


Ethical guidelines for research

(as amended March 2017)


This document addresses issues to be considered in the context of ethical decision-making, and should be consulted alongside the Institute's Mission Statement and other Institute recommendations, such as the Policy Statement regarding the Illicit Trade in Antiquities. In addition, the relevant standards of best practice should be consulted for further information (see list of references at end of this document). It should be remembered that ethical guidelines can only provide general frameworks for good practice and will not always be adequate to deal with the complexities of specific research situations. If specific guidance is required consultation with the Institute's Ethics Committee is advised.

Suggested guidelines for archaeological fieldwork


  • The investigation of archaeological sites should be conducted according to the highest possible standards and the results of such research should normally be made available in the public domain.


  • The conservation of cultural heritage and the long-term protection of archaeological and historical records should be supported.
  • All research projects should include from the outset specific plans for conservation, preservation and publication of the archaeological record.
  • Suitable and accessible storage and curatorial facilities for all archaeological materials, records and archives should be provided for.
  • The responsible use of collections, records and reports in research, as an alternative to destructive fieldwork, should be encouraged.


  • The results of research should be presented to the academic community and wider public in a responsible manner.
  • The results of research should be used in an appropriate fashion and communicated through appropriate and timely activities. They should normally be made available to others if publication is not accomplished within a reasonable length of time.
  • Every effort should be made to ensure preservation of research data for use in the future.

Suggested guidelines for education/training

  • The development of the profession should be assisted by improving methods and techniques and contributing knowledge.
  • The nature of archaeological research and the importance of archaeological resources should be communicated to the general public.

Suggested guidelines for conservation work/research

  • Researchers should strive to attain the highest possible standards in all aspects of conservation. All actions should be governed by an informed respect for cultural property.
  • Researchers should promote an awareness and understanding of conservation through open communication with related professionals and the public.
  • Researchers should recognise a responsibility for preventive conservation by endeavouring to limit damage or deterioration to cultural property and also aim to minimise the environmental impact of their actions (e.g. ensuring the safe disposal of chemicals/conservation materials used on research projects).

Suggested guidelines for research involving marketing/social science surveys

  • Marketing/social science research should always be carried out in accordance with established scientific principles and must conform to UCL's data protection policy and relevant legislation of the country involved in a given research project.
  • Researchers must ensure the security of all research records in their possession in accordance with UCL's data protection policy and take all reasonable precautions to ensure that participants are not harmed or adversely affected by participation in a given research project.
  • Potential recruits should be given sufficient information to allow them to decide whether or not they want to take participate in a given research project.

Suggested guidelines for working with local people/groups when carrying out research

  • The concerns of people whose histories and/or resources are the subject of investigation should be considered.
  • Individuals or groups should be actively consulted to establish a working relationship beneficial to all.
  • Researchers should ensure that their research does not harm the safety, dignity or privacy of the people with whom they conduct research.
  • Researchers should recognise their debt to the societies in which they work and their obligation to establish appropriate forms of reciprocity with local people.

Suggested guidelines for research involving living human participants, including children, people with disabilities and minority groups

Suggested guidelines for research involving photographs, videos and other forms of imagery with living human subjects

  • The permission of living human subjects in imagery must be obtained before such imagery is employed in any public domain. 

Suggested guidelines for research involving human remains

  • Respect for the remains of the dead should be accorded to all, irrespective of origin, race, religion, nationality, custom and tradition.
  • Respect for the wishes of the local community and of relatives or guardians of the dead should be accorded whenever possible.
  • Respect for the scientific research value of skeletal, mummified and other human remains should be accorded whenever possible.

Suggested guidelines concerning sponsorship

  • Care and consideration should be given to ethical issues relating to sponsorship by companies and individuals of archaeological activities.

Sources of Information