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From the President: Protecting Italy's Past Volume 54 Number 3, May/June 2001
by Nancy C. Wilkie

The U.S. and Italy adopt a bilateral agreement.

An important part of the mission of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) is to act as an advocate for the protection of the world's cultural heritage. In particular, the AIA is concerned with the looting of archaeological sites and the loss of scientific information. Because much of the pillaging occurs to satisfy the lucrative illegal trade in antiquities, the AIA has supported requests to restrict the importation into the United States of artifacts from signatories to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Under the provisions of the 1983 Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, emergency import restrictions currently are in effect for Khmer stone archaeological material from Cambodia and Byzantine ethnological material from Cyprus, and bilateral agreements have been signed with the governments of Italy, Canada, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mali, Nicaragua, and Peru to restrict the import of certain archaeological materials from those countries.

The most recent bilateral agreement, that between the U.S. and Italy, became effective January 23, 2001, when it was published in the Federal Register. It seeks to protect Italy's pre-classical, classical, and imperial Roman archaeological material, restricting the import of a wide range of antiquities such as sculptures, architectural elements, portable objects, and wall paintings. For the next five years, these objects may enter the U.S. legally only if they are accompanied by an export certificate issued by the Italian government or by verifiable documentation that they left Italy prior to the date the import ban went into effect.

For its part, Italy has agreed to institute a wide variety of measures designed to stem the pillaging of sites, including increased funding for the protection of ancient remains and museums and prompt prosecution of looters and the imposition of more severe penalties for their activities. Tax incentives for private support of scientific excavations will be developed, and long-term loans of objects of archaeological or artistic interest will be encouraged. Objects recovered from excavations authorized by the Ministry of Culture and conducted by American museums and universities will be available as loans to those institutions.

In his testimony before the Cultural Property Advisory Committee in support of Italy's request for import restrictions, Ricardo Elia, the AIA's vice president for professional responsibilities, documented the magnitude of the looting of ancient sites in Italy and the resulting surge in the number of artifacts that have entered the art market in recent years. Elia noted that during the years 1980-1992, more than 4,000 Apulian red-figure vases were offered for sale, none of which was recorded as belonging to a museum or private collection prior to that time. He also pointed to the recent arrest of individuals involved in three large-scale looting and smuggling operations in Italy, involving more than 30,000 antiquities, as evidence that the pillaging of ancient sites in Italy is an ongoing problem.

By joining the AIA, with its more than 10,000 members, you can add your voice to our efforts to preserve the world's cultural heritage. Please visit our website at:

previousPresident's Letter
M/A 2001
President's Letter
J/A 2001

Nancy C. Wilkie is the president of the Archaeological Institute of America.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America