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El Salvador

U.S. Protection of Pre-Hispanic Archaeological Materials

The 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.  

Pre-Columbian Statue from Cara Sucia 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 archaeological objects.  

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Revised: February 11, 1999

1998 Interim Report

1995 Agreement 

1995 Federal Register Notice (html)

1987 Federal Register Notice 

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