Export 101 for Antiquities

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Over on the Yahoo AncientArtifacts forum there is a telling request for information. A small-time dealer in antiquities from North Carolina asks the list:

Back to basics if someone can help me. In regard to antiquities, which countries: Allow the free and unregulated trade in and export of antiquities? Restrict any trade in or export of antiquities? Don’t seem to care so they don’t address the issue with legislation? Allow regulated trade in and export of antiquities if proper paperwork is obtained? I know most countries ban export of antiquities and do these laws differentiate between pieces of major archaeological/cultural importance and minor pieces. For simplicity, I include coins as antiquities unless there are separate laws governing coins.

This would be sixty-four million dollar question I would have thought for anyone engaged in antiquity collecting, let alone commerce. So, we might ask why there seems to be no published handlist of these laws compiled by the collecting advocacy organizations as an aid to responsible trade and collection of portable antiquities, or until now a perceived need for one.

One such organization is the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild founded in 2004, whose International Affairs Committee : “2-5-1. […] appointed by and responsible to the Executive Director, compiles and archives information about foreign laws and import/export procedures in source countries”. So where is this archive and why is it is not made available to antiquity collectors as a resource?

Obviously, compiling such a resource would be relatively easy for responsible portable antiquity dealers who obtain items exported legally from the source and market countries, since they must know the laws of these individual countries to the letter to be able to abide by them. I cannot imagine that it would be otherwise.

Until then, there are however a number of resources to which the dealer and collector can refer for some of these countries, covering legislation concerning cultural property in general, not specifically that connected with export. There is for example the useful online resource on ‘International Cultural Property Ownership & Export Legislation‘ of the International Foundation for Art Research (registration needed). UNESCO has begun to produce a ‘Cultural Heritage Laws Database’.

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Paul Barford is a British archaeologist living and working in Warsaw Poland. Since the early 1990s a primary interest has been research on artefact hunting and collecting and the market in portable antiquities in the international context.

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