Cultural Heritage Database
The task of protecting Cultural Heritage poses several challenges. One of the most central of these relates to the question of which Cultural Property should be placed under special legal protection. Many countries have responded to this challenge by operating register-based digital systems under which special protection status is conferred upon the cultural property of particular significance that is listed in these registers. Although the entries contained in these digital registers/lists have altered over the past 100 years, the basic system of individual lists continues to be almost the same .
Lists of Cultural Property also exist for lost objects. For example, the Lost Art Database is run by the German Lost Art Foundation and documents cultural property expropriated as a result of Nazi persecution, especially from Jewish owners, between 1933 and 1945 (“Nazi-looted art”), or for which such a loss cannot be ruled out. With the help of the publication of so-called Search Requests and Found-Object Reports, former owners or their heirs are to be brought together with current owners and thus support all stakeholders in finding a just and fair solution .
The lists of Cultural Objects at Risk are also particularly important and play a decisive role in the protection of cultural heritage. For instance, the ICOM Red Lists of Cultural Objects at Risk are practical tools to curb the illegal traffic of cultural objects. Red Lists present the categories of cultural objects that can be subjected to theft and traffic. They help individuals, organizations and authorities, such as police or customs officials, identify objects at risk and prevent them from being illegally sold or exported. It is important to highlight that a Red List is not a list of actual stolen objects. The cultural goods depicted on the lists are inventoried objects within the collections of recognized institutions. They serve to illustrate the categories of cultural goods most vulnerable to illicit traffic. ICOM has been publishing Red Lists since the year 2000, with the scientific collaboration of national and international experts and the unwavering support of dedicated sponsors, to cover the most vulnerable areas of the world in terms of illicit trafficking of cultural objects .
Object Identification (Object ID), an internationally recognized documentation standard conceived to identify and record cultural goods, also plays a key role in the protection, safeguarding and promotion of Cultural Heritage. It sets a standardized procedure to document and describe collections of archaeological, cultural, and artistic objects. By facilitating the identification of these objects, a standardized description can aid in their recovery in case of loss or theft. Object ID was developed in collaboration with the museum community, police and customs agencies, the art trade, the insurance industry, and valuers of art and antiques. It helps to combat the illicit trade of cultural heritage by encouraging the use of the standard and by bringing together organizations around the world that can encourage its implementation .
In case of theft, the information gathered and recorded using the Object ID norm can be checked against other databases of stolen artefacts, for example, the INTERPOL database of stolen works of art. Object ID was created as a practical tool for facilitating the recovery of stolen cultural goods and is now internationally recognized as a necessary and effective tool when inventorying a collection. The Object ID standard defines nine categories of information as well as four steps to fulfil the procedure. The categories are Type of object, Materials and techniques, Measurement, Inscriptions and markings, distinguishing features, Title, Subject, Date or period, and Maker. The four steps are divided as follows: (I) Taking photographs of the object, (II) Identifying the above-mentioned categories, (III) Writing a short description, including additional information, and (IV) Keeping the constituted documentation in a secure place .