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New Import Agreements Volume 50 Number 5, September/October 1997

The United States has signed an agreement with Peru to help protect that country's archaeological and ethnological heritage. Effective June 11, the agreement prohibits the unauthorized importation of archaeological material from Peru's prehispanic cultures, including the Chavín, Paracas, Cuzco, Moche, and Inka. Certain types of ethnological material from Peru's colonial period (A.D. 1532-1821) are also covered. (A list of designated cultural objects covered by the U.S.-Peru agreement has been published in the Federal Register.) The U.S.-Peru agreement is the third cultural property accord signed by the United States in less than three years. In April, the United States and Canada signed an agreement to restrict the importation of certain archaeological and ethnological material into their respective countries. In March 1995 the United States signed a memorandum of understanding with El Salvador to restrict imports of unauthorized archaeological material from that country's prehispanic sites.

The new accord provides significantly more comprehensive protection than a 1990 U.S. emergency import ban that applied only to Moche artifacts from the Sipán area of northern Peru. The agreement was developed by the Cultural Property Advisory Committee, which operates in the U.S. Information Agency and is responsible for implementing the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

The signing of the U.S.-Canada accord is considered a major accomplishment, though a belated one: Canada's request for U.S. assistance under the UNESCO convention dates to 1985 and was the first received by the Cultural Property Advisory Committee. According to the agreement, the United States agrees to ban unauthorized imports of cultural objects that are subject to Canada's Cultural Property Export and Import Act, including artifacts of the Inuit, Subarctic Indian, Northwest Coast Indian, Plateau Indian, Plains Indian, and Woodland Indian cultures. Archaeological material found at historical shipwrecks and other underwater historical sites in Canadian waters are also covered. For its part, Canada agrees to restrict the importation of artifacts removed in violation of the U.S. Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, and the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987.

The El Salvador accord developed out of a U.S. emergency import ban on prehispanic artifacts from the Cara Sucia region, a 66-square-mile area in southwestern El Salvador. The 1995 agreement prohibits the importation into the U.S. of all prehispanic artifacts from the country dating from ca. 8000 B.C. to A.D. 1550 without an export certificate or other documentation.

Prior to 1995, the United States had enacted emergency import restrictions in five cases. In each case--El Salvador, Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala, and Mali--the import bans were restricted to certain types of artifacts from specific cultures and regions in the countries of origin. The new agreements with El Salvador, Canada, and Peru were enacted in accordance with section 303 of the UNESCO convention, which authorizes bilateral agreements with signatory nations whose cultural patrimony is in jeopardy of pillage. Because they offer comprehensive recognition of the export legislation of the signatory countries, not merely emergency restrictions, they represent a major step forward in U.S. efforts to curb the destruction of archaeological sites and the illicit traffic in looted cultural objects.--Ricardo J. Elia, Boston University

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America