U.S. Protection of Pre-Hispanic Archaeological
first cultural property Agreement within the framework created by the U.S.
Cultural Property Implementation Act and the 1970
UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit
Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property was signed
on March 8, 1995, between the United States and El Salvador. This Agreement
restricts importation into the U.S. of El Salvador's pre-Hispanic archaeological
materials unless accompanied by an export permit issued by the Government
of El Salvador. Notice of the U.S. action and a descriptive
list of the types of artifacts subject to import restrictions were published
on March 10, 1995, in the Federal Register by the U.S. Commissioner
of Customs to implement a decision by the United States Information Agency.
The Agreement demonstrates a will on the part of El Salvador to take measures
that will improve domestic protection of its heritage and increase public
understanding of this heritage.
PHOTOGRAPH: Pre-Columbian statue from Cara Sucia
(Courtesy, Government of El Salvador).
Beginning on September 11, 1987,
pre-Hispanic objects from the Cara Sucia archaeological region of El Salvador
were restricted from entering the United States under Article 9 of the
1970 UNESCO Convention. On March 12, 1992, the emergency import restriction
was extended for an additional three years. As a result of the 1995 agreement,
U.S. protection is no longer limited to objects originating from the Cara
Sucia region, but includes all pre-Hispanic archaeological objects that
remain in El Salvador.
The agreement between the United
States and El Salvador advances the promotion of cultural values, one of
the action items agreed upon at the 1994 Summit of the Americas, at which
participants pledged to work with hemispheric governments to enhance appreciation
of indigenous cultures and cultural artifacts through various means, including
the implementation of cultural property protection agreements.
A U.S. import restriction is an important
deterrent against the destruction of archaeological sites and the illicit
export of cultural objects. U.S. Customs may seize the pre-Hispanic artifacts
of El Salvador if they are imported in violation of the restriction.
Pre-Hispanic archaeological sites
in El Salvador represent three millennia of occupation, from 1500 B.C.
to A.D. 1550, beginning with a culture that produced some of the earliest
known Mesoamerican pottery. Pre-Hispanic archaeological objects include
stone sculpture, as well as ceramic polychrome vessels, figurines, stamp
seals, drums and effigies. As a result of the extensive looting that the
region has experienced, irreplaceable chapters of El Salvador's archaeological
record have been destroyed. By 1987 looters had dug more than 5,000 pits
in the Cara Sucia region alone, damaging or destroying burials, remains
of structures, and other archaeological features which could have contributed
to the knowledge of the region's pre-history.
In reviewing El Salvador's latest
request for protection, the Cultural Property
Advisory Committee found the record of pre-Hispanic civilizations to
be in jeopardy from pillage. Scholarly research is vastly impeded due to
the systematic and often sophisticated looting of pre-Hispanic sites to
meet the demands of the art market in the U.S. and internationally. The
United States Information Agency's decision to cooperate with El Salvador
is intended to reduce the incentive for pillage of that country's pre-Hispanic
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Revised: February 11, 1999
FROM THE FOLLOWING:
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