Friday, 13 May 2011

Peru Gets Stolen Antiquities Back from US

Peru has a 1997 cultural property MOU with the US referring to pre-Columbian archaeological artifacts and colonial ethnological materials from all areas of Peru. On that basis it got back from the US a mixed load of seized cultural goodies on May 12th. The artefacts were discovered as part of three separate investigations by ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in New York and Denver. There was a book found in the bagage of a passenger to Houston who was on an ICE stop-list, but also some archaeological material from other seizures, including a pot with a feline on one side and standing feline, A.D. 300-360, handmade textile and two headbands all of cotton, most likely excavated from graves along the Pacific coast of Peru, and a stone jaguar-human sculpture, 1200-1500 years old, likely Chavín or Moche in origin. The artefacts repatriated are valued at more than $43,000. Not bad for a group of old pots and rags, which shows clearly how the value placed on them by collectors is the motor for digging them up and smuggling them out of the country.

Apparently "this is the second repatriation of items to Peru. In April 2010, ICE and CBP returned 12 pre-Columbian human skulls, circa A.D. 640-890". That's collectors of "ancient art" for you, I suppose if they pay grave robbers to give them textiles taken from tombs to display as trophies in living room showcases, there's not much human decency left to stop them from buying human remains from them too to decorate the bathroom.

The usual speeches were delivered.

The press release goes on to say:

ICE HSI plays a leading role in investigating crimes involving the illicit importation and distribution of cultural property. ICE HSI uses its investigative authority to seize cultural property items if they were illegally imported into the United States. It also investigates the illegal trafficking of artwork, especially works that have been reported lost or stolen. ICE's Office of International Affairs, through its 69 attaché offices in 47 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations, when possible.

ICE's specially trained investigators and foreign attachés partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities as well as train investigators from other nations and agencies on how to find and authenticate cultural property, and how to best enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace.

More than 2,400 artifacts have been returned to 19 countries since 2007 including paintings from France, Germany and Austria; an 18th century manuscript from Italy; and a bookmark belonging to Hitler as well as cultural artifacts from Iraq including Babylonian, Sumerian and neo-Assyrian items.[...]

CBP is the nation's lead border security agency and is charged with enforcing hundreds of laws at and between our nation's 327 international ports of entry. As part of that mission, CBP enforces bi-lateral agreements and import restrictions on certain foreign cultural property and archaeological materials. CBP works closely with ICE and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to prevent the illegal trade and trafficking of cultural antiquities. CBP partners with ICE to ensure that illegally traded and trafficked antiquities are returned to their rightful owners.

These hundreds of laws include the ones the ACCG, PNG and IAPN are trying to have overturned to allow the free importation into the United States of illegally exported items from countries with cultural property MOUs with the US.

Vignette: Smuggled Jaguar thingy repatriated.

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