The U.S. federal government and many individual states enforce statutes that protect cultural property, archaeological sites, and historic resources:
The American Antiquities Act of 1906
The Historic Sites Act of 1935
Regulation of Importation of Pre-Columbian Monumental or Architectural Sculpture or Murals (1972)
The Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act (1960; Amended 1974)
A number of federal agencies contribute to the enforcement of the treaties, laws, and restrictions regarding cultural heritage:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) – Art Crime Team in association with international law enforcement agencies such as INTERPOL.
The United States also cooperates with foreign military/police agencies, such as the Carabinieri.
Additionally, the United States enters into bilateral agreements with several nations to prevent the importation of those nations’ cultural heritage. This practice is part of the United States’s adoption and ratification of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. To learn more about that convention, visit our “Global Response” page. To learn more about how SAFE contributes to–and advocates for–bilateral agreements with nations whose heritage is at risk, visit our “Advocacy” page.
How does the United States enter into a bilateral agreement with another nation?
First, a state must request that the United States enter into negotiations to establish a bilateral agreement. That request is then referred to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC). CPAC is a committee of eleven appointees, of whom three represent the interests of the archaeological/anthropological communities, two represent museums, three represent the public, and three are experts in the international archaeological/ethnological trade. The committee weighs the merit of the proposed agreement and usually allows for public input. Finally, the committee is charged with making recommendations to the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs concerning four statutory criteria. If these criteria are met, the United States usually enters into negotiations to finalize an agreement:
- That the cultural patrimony of the state requesting the agreement is in jeopardy from the pillage of archaeological or ethnological materials of that state;
- That the state requesting the agreement has taken measures consistent with the convention to protect its cultural patrimony;
- That other nations who have an import market for the same types of goods have, or soon will, impose similar restrictions on such goods, and that less drastic remedies are unavailable.
- That the application of import restrictions is consistent with the general interest of the international community in the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.
When an agreement is reached, it is memorialized in a Memorandum of Understanding, which includes the reasons for the agreement, the list if materials to be restricted, and any other provisions concerning mutual cooperation between the countries involved. MoUs last for five year periods, but may be renewed indefinitely.
With the authority granted them by the Act, and in accordance with the procedure explained above, the United States has entered into bilateral agreements with a number of countries to prevent the illegal trafficking of cultural heritage between both countries. Countries that currently have bilateral agreements with the U.S. are highlighted in yellow on the map below. Hover over each country you will see the year the MOU was initially signed. Click on the country and you will be taken to that country’s page on the U.S. State Department International Cultural Property Protection web site.