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Letter: Better protection for archaeological sites

Sir: Your report (' pounds 1.5m bronzes for museum', 27 January) that the Icklingham Roman temple bronzes will eventually be inherited by the British Museum is very welcome. However, this case has shown that the British government has no powers to recover objects which were illegally looted from a scheduled archaeological site and illegally exported. We have had to rely on the determination of the landowner, John Browning, to fight the case as an individual in the American courts and to win our right of access to these pieces of our past.

But beyond this exceptional case, the outlook is bleak. The Government refuses to ratify a Unesco convention on illicit trade in cultural properties. Objects looted from historic sites all over the world constantly pass through London's sale rooms - good for trade figures but bad for the national image. Less dramatic finds, which are just as important for understanding our past, are removed in their thousands from our own historic landscape; only a small percentage are properly recorded before they are sold or lost, and the information they represent is destroyed completely. The legal protection for objects in the ground is limited and enforcement is often regarded as low


Rescue wants better protection for archaeological sites and the objects which are part of them, and urges immediate ratification of the Unesco convention as one step in this process.

Yours faithfully,


Secretary, Rescue

The British Archaeological Trust


27 January