U.S. Response:
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U.S. Protection of Pre-Columbian Archaeological Materials

I. Introduction
II. Description of Artifacts Subject to Restriction
III. U.S Response to Request from Guatemala
IV. Significance of the Maya and the Peten

I. Introduction

On September 29, 1997, the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Guatemala signed a Memorandum of Understanding that provides U.S. import restrictions on archaeological objects representing the Maya of the Peten Lowlands and pre-Columbian cultures of the Highlands and Southern Coast regions of Guatemala. The restriction went into effect on October 3, 1997, the date of the Federal Register notice. The specific restriction on the import of Peten Maya archaeological material has been in effect on an interim emergency basis since April 15, 1991, and continues to be in effect under this agreement.

The restricted objects may enter the United States if accompanied by an export permit issued by the Government of Guatemala; or, if they left Guatemala prior to the date of publication in the Federal Register (October 3, 1997 for Highland and Southern Coast materials from Guatemala and April 15, 1991 for Lowland Peten Maya materials.)

This import restriction complements the 1973 Pre-Columbian Monumental or Architectural Sculpture or Murals Statute which restricts the importation of parts or fragments of monuments originating in Guatemala and other Central and South American countries where pre-Columbian cultures prospered. Any such monumental or architectural sculpture or mural may not be imported into the U.S. without an export license issued by the country of origin.  

II. Description of Artifacts Subject to Restriction

Restricted pre-Columbian artifacts include polychrome ceramic vases, bowls, plates and jars, drums, figurines, whistles, stamps and effigy vessels. Also restricted are artifacts of jade, obsidian, flint, alabaster, calcite, shell and bone.   A description of the artifacts was published by the U.S. Customs Service on October 3, 1997, in the Federal Register. The Guatemala Image Collection provides illustrations of some categories of restricted artifacts.

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Revised: March 2, 1999

Guatemala Image Collection

1997 Agreement 

1997 Federal Register Notice (html) (text)   

1991 Federal Register Notice 

Frequently Asked Questions 

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