Waystation Initiative

Preparing housing for an artifact

Listen to an interview with Lyssa Stapleton of the Waystation Initiative with KCRW’s All Things Considered (originally aired on June 21, 2023). 

The Waystation Initiative at UCLA is a groundbreaking endeavor that organizes and facilitates the voluntary return of international archaeological and ethnographic objects to the nation or community of origin.

During the past two decades, attitudes regarding the ownership, stewardship, and interpretation of archaeological and ethnographic material have changed drastically and institutions as well as individuals are acknowledging the existence of the illegal trade in looted cultural objects and an often violent colonial collecting history. Simultaneously, museums are more frequently refusing to accept donations that lack proof of legal and ethical acquisition. As museums and universities seek to address unprovenanced items already in collections, to decolonize curatorial practices, and to return objects, there are few established protocols and not enough trained staff to accomplish these tasks.

The Waystation Initiative comprises a suite of programs and resources including a certificate for UCLA graduate students, community engagement workshops, a broad stakeholder network, and the development and dissemination of new standards for the voluntary return of cultural objects. We also offer internship opportunities for highly qualified undergraduates. 

The Waystation is establishing a model for temporary or transitional stewardship as well as voluntary returns that will put many new ideals, ethics, and attitudes regarding the ownership and care of ethnographic and archaeological material into practice. The Waystation Initiative is designed to inspire mutual respect and appreciation and encourage partnership among nations and peoples.


Affiliated faculty and staff

Faculty participants in the project include Stephen Acabado, professor of anthropology and chair of the Interdepartmental Archaeology Program; Jason De León, professor of anthropology and Chicana/o studies, and director of the Cotsen Institute; Lothar von Falkenhausen, professor of Chinese archaeology and art history; Min Li, associate professor of Chinese archaeology; Vanessa Muros, director of the Experimental and Archaeological Sciences Laboratory at the Cotsen Institute; Lyssa Stapleton, director of the Waystation Initiative and the certificate program; Thomas Wake, associate adjunct professor of anthropology and director of the Zooarchaeology Laboratory; Willeke Wendrich, professor emerita of Egyptian Archaeology and Digital Humanities; and Glenn Wharton, professor of art history and chair of the UCLA/Getty Interdepartmental Program in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage.


Are you interested in the preservation and protection of the world’s cultural heritage, social justice, archaeology and anthropology, international studies, ethics or the law, the history of colonization and the decolonization movement, or museology? 

The graduate certificate in Cultural Heritage Research, Stewardship, and Restitution is open to any matriculated UCLA graduate student with a strong interest in cultural heritage research and preservation, archaeology and anthropology, international studies, ethics and law, the history of colonization and the decolonization movement, cultural and area studies, and museology. The new program offers students the opportunity to gain specialized training in skills that are not available at any other university in the U.S. Learn more about the Certificate in Cultural Heritage Research, Stewardship, and Restitution here.

The Waystation will also be creating undergraduate research positions in 2024-25. Be among the first UCLA undergraduates to take part in this important initiative. Contact Lyssa Stapleton for more information.