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Ethical conduct

All research that is carried out by Birkbeck staff and students that involves intervention or interaction with human participants, or the collection and / or study of data derived from living human participants, requires ethical approval. This is so, no matter where the investigations are carried out. (See for further information).

Members of the School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy are strongly advised to familiarise themselves with and observe the code of conduct and ethical principles laid down by their relevant professional body, e.g.:

Members of the School should ensure that everyone for whom they are responsible in their Department and to whom the code and principles apply, observes them.

Statement regarding antiquities

In carrying out research on objects of antiquity, students and staff must take care to understand the provenance of items and avoid contributing to the presentation, publication or valorization of unprovenanced material unless it can be demonstrated clearly that the artefact or specimen has been in an existing collection since before 1970 or was legally exported from its country of origin. This restriction is in line with UNESCO’s Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970.

The United Kingdom’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Cultural Property Unit has adopted the 1970 threshold in its advice regarding due diligence in determining provenance of antiquities (2005).

Students and staff must avoid undertaking scholarly work on objects where there is insufficient information to establish a licit provenance or where the material is known to be illicit. Before setting out to study material, or assist in the publication of research, students and staff must exercise due diligence in establishing that the material has not been illegally excavated, acquired, transferred and/or exported from its country of origin since 1970. Members of the School may be called upon to provide expert advice on antiquities, as part of a police or governmental body’s investigation into material and its provenance and should proceed with attention to the basic principles of this code: seeking to discourage illicit dealings in antiquities. Research into illicit acquisition of antiquities itself may pose particular issues in regard to this code, and students and staff pursuing such research are advised to consult the Ethics Committee to clarify that their research is not supporting or engaging in illicitly acquired antiquities, but sets out to discourage the trade.

Professional bodies in the field also adhere to codes of conduct in this regard, such as:

  • International Council of Museums’ Ethics Code which prevents museums and museum staff from acting 'in any way that could be regarded as benefiting such illicit trade, directly or indirectly', including in the identification of archaeological items and their presentation/display;
  • Article 1.6 of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists’ Code of Conduct, which states that ‘A member shall know and comply with all laws applicable to his or her archaeological activities whether as employer or employee, and where appropriate with national and international treaties, conventions and charters including annexes and schedules.