Provenance Research: An Introduction to Ethical Collecting

With Alyssa Thiel -an independent investigative analyst formerly part of the New York County District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit.
Rome, Italy, July 8-12, 2024

The program will meet daily from Monday to Friday
10:00 am - 2:00 pm CET - times may be subject to adjustment



This course is open to all interested parties and assumes no prior knowledge of the security field. It is likely to be of benefit to anyone currently working in the field of heritage sites, museums, or galleries or anyone who intends to work in this field in the future.


In recent years, the genteel world of antiquities collecting has been rocked by a series of scandals as it has been revealed that many collections are based on stolen material trafficked illegally. Even more egregious is the fact that the art market cynically profited from exploiting areas of conflict where law enforcement is weakened. Some of the biggest names in the museum world, such as the New York Metropolitan Museum and the Louvre, not to mention wealthy philanthropists, have found themselves unwittingly caught up in the trade of blood antiquities. The root of the issue nearly always lies with inadequate or fraudulent provenance, that is, documentation that hides the true origin of the pieces and substitutes a backstory that appears legitimate. This has generated an increased interest in provenance research, which this course aims to fulfill. The course will examine what provenance research is, how it can be carried out, what constitutes due diligence, what laws are in place to protect antiquities, and how antiquities trafficking fits into the bigger picture of organized crime.


Participants who complete the course will receive an AUR Certificate of Attendance. This course does not offer institutional Credit Hours.

About your instructor: Alyssa Thiel

Alyssa Thiel has a BA in Art History from the University of Kansas and an MA in Sustainable Cultural Heritage from վ. She is an independent investigative analyst and formerly a member of the New York County District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit. Formedin 2017, the Antiquities Trafficking Unit works with the US Department of Homeland Security and international partners to recover illicit antiquities. The Antiquities Trafficking Unit is the only one of its kind in the United States and works to stop the illicit trade into New York and return objects that have been in the United States for years. Over the past three years, the Antiquities Trafficking Unit, along with its partners, has repatriated dozens of looted antiquities.

New York is home to some of the world's most prominent art collectors, dealers, galleries, and museums. As a result, trade in looted antiquities has thrived in the city. The looted antiquities trade is a truly international criminal enterprise. The Unit has investigated illicit pieces from around the world, including Italy, Greece, Egypt, Cambodia, South America, and increasingly, areas of unrest in the Middle East. Under the direction of the Assistant District Attorney, Alyssa and her fellow analysts extensively researched the history of a suspected illicit object to build a case to seize and return it to its country of origin. This process can include a wide range of activities, including tracing the origins of a piece, documenting its ownership history, sometimes refuting a piece’s forged provenance, and tracking its path to its current location, often through known trafficking networks.


Each day will consist of 4 to 5 hours of contact time comprising lectures, discussions, outside speakers, and tabletop exercises. During the week, an optional trip to a site relevant to the course will be organized.

Day 1: What is Provenance Research?
The first session will give a general overview of provenance and why it is essential in museums and collecting today. We will also explore how attitudes have changed and the legacy issues that result from changing societal values.

Day 2: Best Practices and Due Diligence, the Ethics of Provenance
This session will cover ethics issues in antiquities collecting and museum collections, best practices in carrying out provenance research, and practical skills in conducting searches. Students will discuss well-known case studies such as the Euphronios Krater (Met), Gold Coffin (Met), Nazi-Looted art, and the Benin Bronzes.

Day 3: Issues of Looting and Trafficking.
In this session, we will expand our focus on the broader world of antiquities trafficking and its connection to organized crime. We will examine trafficking rings, both past and present, in Italy, Turkey, and Cambodia.

Day 4: Legal Framework and Law Enforcement.
Today’s focus will be the legal framework under which museums, auction houses, dealers, and private collections must operate. We will examine the international, patrimony, and criminal laws relevant to collecting cultural heritage and provenance research. Students will also learn about international law enforcement’s efforts to curb trafficking and control the illicit antiquities market.

Day 5: The Future of Provenance Research in Museums and Collecting.
The final session will cover the future of provenance research in museums, from changing attitudes towards collecting and museums in the cultural heritage world to solutions and new approaches to collecting.

Please note this schedule may be subject to adjustment.



€1,495.00 (euros)/participant


Please note that all participants are responsible for their own transportation, accommodation, and insurance coverage. As a major tourist venue, Rome has an extensive supply of hotel accommodation at all levels, but participants are advised to book as early as possible in order to secure the booking of their choice.


Please register below.


International participants must be informed about Italian travel information and hold a valid entry visa if required.

For non-EU citizens, or with your local embassy.

Provenance Research: An Introduction to Ethical Collecting.

To apply for this program, please fill in the form below. Once you have submitted the form, you will receive instructions on how to pay the course fee.

Payment instructions will be emailed to you upon receipt of your application.

If you require further information before applying, please contact the Seminar Director, Professor Valerie Higgins, at  
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