Due diligence research on older works rarely provides a complete historical record. It is extremely misleading to claim that an artwork without a complete provenance should be considered unsalable or possibly illicit.

Due diligence should be carried out on a best endeavor basis rather than on a result basis. This statement needs to be understood by policy makers, museums, dealers and collectors who follow due diligence guidelines. (Download the CINOA e-Toolkit for Due Diligence and Provenance Research) It is the search that is important and it is common not to find a complete historical ownership record of the work of art or artifact. Unless there are other circumstances which render the artwork high risk, one should not automatically suspect that the artwork is illicit because there are many legitimate reasons for an incomplete provenance or location history.

Historically, there was never a legal requirement for documentation to remain with circulating cultural objects. Asking for these documents is a phenomenon of the modern world that did not exist when most cultural objects were created or indeed when they were exported in previous decades and centuries. Ownership history is often incomplete; this can be due to unsaved receipts, disappeared archives (destroyed or lost), gifted, inherited and/or traded objects, exported or imported prior to licences being required, records being for collections rather than individual objects, such records bearing no precise descriptions nor illustrations.

For a more in depth discussion on due diligence research and antiquities, we refer you to the following paper: The Antiquities Trade: A reflection on the past 25 years, Part 1- Definitions, academic relations, orphan antiquities, the 2000 date, and source country export licenses.