Cultural Artifacts and Cultural Property

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What are some examples of prohibited and restricted items at customs?

Cultural Artifacts and Cultural Property

Most countries have laws that protect their cultural property (art/artifacts/antiquities; archaeological and ethnological material are also terms that are used). Such laws include export controls and/or national ownership of cultural property. Even if purchased from a business in the country of origin or in another country, legal ownership of such artifacts may be in question if brought into the U.S. Make certain you have documents such as export permits and receipts, although these do not necessarily confer ownership. While foreign laws may not be enforceable in the U.S., they can cause certain U.S. law to be invoked. For example, as a general rule, under the U.S. National Stolen Property Act, one cannot have legal title to art/artifacts/antiquities that were stolen, no matter how many times such items may have changed hands. Articles of stolen cultural property (from museums or from religious or secular public monuments) originating in any of the countries party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention specifically may not be imported into the U.S. In addition, U.S. law may restrict importation into the U.S. of specific categories of art/artifacts/antiquities: U.S. law restricts the import of any Pre-Colombian monumental and architectural sculpture and murals from Central and South American countries. U.S. law specifically restricts the importation of Native American artifacts from Canada; Maya Pre-Colombian archaeological objects from Guatemala; Pre-Colombian archaeological objects from El Salvador and Peru; archaeological objects (such as terracotta statues) from Mali; Colonial period objects such as paintings and ritual objects from Peru; Byzantine period ritual and ecclesiastic objects (such as icons) from Cyprus; Khmer stone archaeological sculpture from Cambodia. Importation of items such as those above is permitted only when the items are accompanied by an export permit issued by the country of origin (where such items were first found). Purveyors of such items have been known to offer phony export certificates.

   

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