Scientific article

The "Enhancement" of Cultural Heritage by AMS Dating: Ethical Questions and Practical Proposals

Published inRadiocarbon, vol. 59, no. 2, p. 559-563
Publication date2017

The looting of archaeological and ethnographic objects from emerging countries and areas of conflict has prospered due to the high prices that these objects can achieve on the art market. This commercial value now almost necessarily requires proof of authenticity by the object's age. To do so, absolute dating has been conducted since the end of the 1970s on terra cotta art objects using the thermoluminescence method, a practice that has since been condemned. It is only more recently, since the 2000s, that art dealers and collectors have begun to use the accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) method to date different kinds of objects made of organic materials. Compared to conventional radiocarbon dating, the AMS technique requires only very small samples, thus depreciating neither the aesthetics nor commercial value of the object. As a result, the use of absolute dating has become widespread, accompanying the increase in looting of the cultural heritage of countries destabilized by political overthrows and armed conflicts, especially in the Near East and Africa. The present article condemns the practice of AMS dating of looted art objects and encourages the creation of a code of deontology for 14C dating laboratories in order to enhance an ethical approach in this sensitive field facing the current challenges.

  • AMS dating
  • Heritage valorization
  • Illicit trade
  • Archaeological plundering
  • Ethical issues
Citation (ISO format)
HUYSECOM, Eric et al. The ‘Enhancement’ of Cultural Heritage by AMS Dating: Ethical Questions and Practical Proposals. In: Radiocarbon, 2017, vol. 59, n° 2, p. 559–563. doi: 10.1017/RDC.2016.79
Main files (1)
Article (Published version)
ISSN of the journal0033-8222

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