On November 21st, the United States Department of Homeland Security and the Department of the Treasury passed a rule that further restricts the import of objects of Greek cultural heritage materials. The rule was passed as a result of a request of the Greek government in February 2016 and because of recommendations made by the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The restrictions will remain in effect for five years, and will be reconsidered and amended in 2021.
Broadly, the restrictions apply to archaeological materials from the Greek Upper Paleolithic — the era which saw the beginning of anatomically modern Homo sapiens sapiens — through the 15th century AD. Importing objects from the Greek Byzantine Period (4th century through 15th century) is also restricted. The restricted artifacts include architectural elements, sarcophagi, furniture, ceramic vessels, coins, tools, mosaics, and weapons. These could be made of stone, metal, ceramic, glass, or bone. In addition, the ethnographic restrictions include the trafficking of ecclesiastical textiles, parchments, paintings, and wooden objects. Notably, the specific types of artifacts that are restricted are similar to those specified in the new Syrian import restrictions. The listed materials can only be brought into the United States if they are accompanied by a governmental export permit stating that the object left Greece before December 1, 2011.
Since the formation of the modern Greek State, the Greek government has been responsible for “the protection of the natural and cultural environment constitutes a duty of the State and a right of every person.” In addition to the Greek Constitution, Law 3028/2002, “On The Protection of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage in General,” developed an extensive legal system of monument, artifact, and intangible cultural heritage protection. In 2008, the Ministry of Culture established a Directorate whose entire focus was on the illicit trafficking of cultural heritage, while also provided international jurisdiction of the Greek courts in antiquities trafficking cases. Next, in 2011, a Memorandum of Understanding was passed to directly expand import restrictions between the United States and Greece. This paid particular attention to the trafficking of archeological and Byzantine ecclesiastical ethnological material that was produced at any point until the end of the Hellenic Republic.
Today, the responsibility largely lies on the Central Archaeological Council, the Central Council of Recent Monuments, and the Council of Museums. These Greek laws, though strict, are not well enforced due to a lack of funding for the Greek Archaeological Service. This month’s import restrictions, expanded from the 2011 Memorandum, aim to directly “reduce the incentive for pillage” and trafficking of cultural objects in Greece and the surrounding countries.
To learn more about Greek cultural heritage, visit SAFE’s page, “A Global Concern: Greece.” And to further join this fight and raise awareness about this war crime, consider working with or donating to SAFE.
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