The Allard Pierson plans to conduct an investigation into the provenance of its archaeological collections in the period 2023-2027. Little or nothing is known about the provenance of many of the approximately 19,000 items held at the museum. It wants to fill these gaps by gathering as much information as possible about these items and making it available to the public. Els van der Plas, director: “The Allard Pierson feels a responsibility to tackle the illegal trade in and violence against archaeological objects and wants to participate in the public debate concerning the ownership of heritage.”

Allard Pierson has recently received restitution requests from Italy for a number of archaeological items. These have prompted the decision to launch a major provenance investigation. Such an investigation will shed more light on the ownership history of objects after they were removed from their original context. The guiding principle here is that the provenance of each and every archaeological item can be traced. Stijn van Rossem, Head of Research & Collections, commented in NRC newspaper on 7 February 2023: “As a museum we want to maintain the highest possible ethical standards. The first step is therefore proper provenance research into all objects in the collection. If an item was acquired illegally, we must put that right.”


The Allard Pierson is working with researchers from the University of Amsterdam to carry out the provenance research properly and independently. A partnership agreement currently being finalized with the Ministry of Culture in Italy will not only encourage and elaborate on restitution but also support loans and collaboration in the area of research and presentations. Such an agreement concerning archaeological finds, by which legal proceedings can be avoided, is unique. Questions raised by this issue will also be taken on board in the forthcoming investigation. What sort of collaboration do we want to achieve? How do we deal with donations and acquisitions? And how do we deal with possible restitution on moral grounds?


On show currently is a small exhibition compiled in collaboration with master students of Museum Studies at the University of Amsterdam. It tells the story of the journey travelled by one object with a questionable provenance – in this case a Sicilian pyxis¸ a high stemmed bowl with lid and polychrome decoration – and its possible restitution. The exhibition remains on view at the Allard Pierson over the coming months.

The archaeological collections at the Allard Pierson

The Allard Pierson Museum was founded in 1934 and the main collections consist of archaeological objects from the Mediterranean region, the Ancient Near East and Egypt. The core of these collections comes from the private collection of banker Constant W. Lunsingh Scheurleer from The Hague. Over the following decades the museum acquired collections from private collectors, dealers and auction houses. However, the provenance of some of these items is unclear or unknown. This does not necessarily mean that the objects were acquired illegally. But it does mean that how and when, and under what circumstances, these objects left their country of origin was not demonstrably ascertained at the time. The Allard Pierson hopes to learn more about the provenance of the objects by means of archival research.