U.S Response to Request from Guatemala
This U.S. action is in response to
a request from the Government of Guatemala under Article 9 of the 1970
UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit
Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The
United States became a state party to the Convention in 1983, following
passage of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation
Act. Such action assists another country in combatting the destruction
of archaeological sites and the illicit movement of cultural objects so
that long-term remedies can be found to protect these non-renewable resources
for future generations and for educational, cultural and scientific purposes.
The U.S.-Guatemala Memorandum of Understanding also furthers the aims
of the 1994 Summit of the Americas action plan "to enhance appreciation
of indigenous cultures and cultural artifacts through the implementation
of cultural property protection agreements."
In reviewing Guatemala's request,
the Cultural Property Advisory Committee
found the cultural heritage of Guatemala to be in jeopardy from the pillage
of the archaeological record of the Maya and other pre-Columbian cultures
that once thrived there. Scholarly research of the Maya, for example,
is vastly impeded due to the systematic and often sophisticated looting
to meet the demands of the international art market. Consistent with the
committee's recommendation, the United States Information Agency determined
that the application of import restrictions would ameliorate the problem.
Significance of the Maya and the Peten
The Maya that inhabited the Peten
for more than a millennium, beginning in approximately 900 B.C., are considered
unique among pre-Hispanic native peoples for the development of intricate
writing, mathematical, astronomical and calendrical systems. Detailed records
of their daily life were inscribed on monuments, ceramic vessels, and other
representations of their material culture. When decoded, these inscriptions
yield enormous quantities of information. The Maya civilization is considered
one of the greatest in the world.
The Peten, a lowland area of tropical
forests, occupies the northern one-third of Guatemala. Guatemala estimates
that there are more than 2,200 archaeological sites in the region.
PHOTOGRAPH: Site of Tikal (Courtesy,
R. Bishop, Smithsonian Institution).
Some of the best known sites are El Mirador,
Rio Azul, Uaxactun, Tikal, Naranjo, Piedras Negras, Yaxha, Tayasal, Yaxchilan,
Altar de Sacrificios, Seibal and Dos Pilas.These remnants of the Maya
civilization consist of ceremonial centers with magnificent stone structures,
such as temple pyramids, astronomical observatories, sweat baths, ball
courts and reservoirs.
The depredation of the Peten began
in the late 19th century when explorers removed selected sculptured monuments,
such as altars, stelae and lintels, for collectors and museums. The wholesale
destruction of the region began, however, in the 20th century when looters
organized to supply a growing demand for pre-Columbian art. Guatemala
reports that the looting has continued during the last two decades with
scores of the inspected sites reported as looted. Unbridled looting throughout
Guatemala has left few archaeological sites intact and has resulted in
the loss to science and history of an incalculable amount of information.
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