Thursday, December 8, 2016

Feds Publish New US-Egypt Cultural Property Import Rules

Importers have new rules to follow when shipping archaeological material from Egypt, and customs officers have a fresh tool to target contraband antiquities smuggled from Egypt into the United States.

Published by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Department of Treasury on Tuesday, the newly issued Final Rule details the import restrictions put in place by the terms of an historic US-Egypt cultural heritage agreement signed last week.

The Final Rule designates a list of ancient Egyptian material that is restricted from American import unless there is proper authorization. The list includes artifacts from many periods of Egypt's history (from 5200 BC through 1517 AD), including the Predynastic, Pharaonic, Greco-Roman, Coptic, and Early Islamic through the Mamluk Dynasty. The archaeological artifacts subject to import controls are assembled in roughly fifty categories and encompass objects like
  • limestone columns
  • Old Kingdom diorite statues and Late Dynastic bronze sculptures
  • Early Dynastic greywacke cosmetic palettes
  • Coptic tombstones
  • mummies and mummy coffins, masks, and wrappings
  • canopic jars
  • senet games and game pieces
  • animal amulets
  • stamp and cylinder seals
  • musical sistras
  • Bible caskets
  • silver coins of Alexander the Great struck at Memphis and bronze Roman coins minted in Alexandria
  • Islamic tile wall ornaments
  • lots of Dynastic pottery and pottery shard
  • Coptic Christian wood panels
  • Middle Kingdom funerary boats
  • New Kingdom chariots and arrows
  • enamel mosque lamps
  • leather used in shields and undergarments
  • papyrus manuscripts
  • tomb paintings and rock art
  • icons
  • Greco-Roman floor mosaics
The designated list adds the comment, "Today cartonnage objects are sometimes dismantled in hopes of extracting inscribed papyrus fragments," a reference to the controversial technique of searching mummy masks for classical and religious texts.

The Final Rule's publication in the Federal Register reveals that Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan made the four determinations required by the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) on November 14, 2014. She concluded that Egypt's cultural patrimony is in jeopardy of pillage of archaeological material, that the Egyptian government has taken preventive measures, that US import controls would be a substantial benefit to deter serious pillage, and that the import restrictions are compatible with the exchange of cultural property for purposes of science, culture, and knowledge.

CBP and Treasury signed the Final Rule on December 1, with an effective date of December 5. Why it took over two years to conclude the underlying bilateral agreement and approve import regulations is unknown. The State Department officially has declined to explain.

What is known is that the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) received public comments in May 2014 from heritage preservationists on one side and ancient coin collectors on the other side debating the proposed cultural property Memorandum of Understanding between the US and Egypt. CPAC held a public hearing in June that same year and then met four months later, in October, behind closed doors. Now, in rapid succession, an agreement has been signed and customs regulations put in place.

The customs regulations designate Egyptian archaeological objects by type and includes them in the list of restricted materials that may not be imported into the United States without documentation authorizing their import. 19 U.S.C. § 2606. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, in the case of Ancient Coin Collectors Guild v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 698 F.3d 171 (2012), describes the process in crisp detail:
Such documentation must show that the article in question was either (1) lawfully exported from its respective state while CPIA restrictions were in effect; (2) exported from its respective state more than ten years before it arrived in the United States; or (3) exported from its respective state before CPIA restrictions went into effect. Id. [19 U.S.C. § 2606], In other words, the importer need not document every movement of its articles since ancient times. It need demonstrate only that the articles left the country that has requested import restrictions before those restrictions went into effect or more than ten years before the date of import.
The Maryland District Court adds, “[F]or objects without documentation of where and when they were discovered, the CPIA expressly places the burden on importers to prove that they are importable, and prohibits the importation of those objects if they cannot meet that burden.” Ancient Coin Collectors v. US Customs and Border, 801 F. Supp. 2d 383 (2011).

Photo credit: Sinisa Mijatov,

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