ISAW's central mission is to be a center for research and advanced education concerning the ancient world, broadly conceived in time and space. Its programs of exhibitions, lectures, and conferences are at once forms of research and teaching and opportunities to present the results of such research to a variety of publics.
Driven by its research-intensive mission and neither having nor planning to acquire an antiquities collection of its own, ISAW exhibits artifacts mainly for their ability to illuminate central questions about ancient cultures, especially issues related to connections between societies, whether religious, economic, political, artistic, or technological. Such investigations typically involve the archaeological contexts of objects; for example, ISAW's first exhibition has tried to present the finds from Vani in the framework of their original grave assemblages so that the functions and relationships of the objects become clear.
ISAW will thus at times develop exhibitions in collaboration with archaeologists; exhibitions will in turn sometimes help spur additional fieldwork, site protection, and site presentation projects.
In keeping with these emphases, ISAW's exhibitions will stress the presentation of artifacts from public and institutional collections in both those countries where archaeological sites are located and those where artifacts from those sites are housed as the result of excavations carried out under official agreements and permits. Such museums in source countries, especially older foundations, often have many objects from local sites that were not found in official excavations or that come from official but unscientific excavations. Where such objects are part of a loan exhibition, ISAW will be particularly intent on contextualizing them to the extent possible and giving all possible information about provenance.
ISAW will exhibit objects only if their possession and import can be determined not to be in contravention of the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Property of 1970, as implemented by the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act of 1983 (19 United States Code 2601-13), and of other applicable national laws.
All who have dealt with the complex issues posed by the long history of archaeology and acquisition in the wide range of countries with which ISAW is concerned are aware that it is difficult to capture fully the variety of specific circumstances that can surround particular objects or groups of objects. ISAW is committed to fostering extensive discussion of these issues by its faculty, staff, and students to the continued development of its policy by the faculty over the coming years.