I. Cultural Property Agreement with the U.S.
On March 15, 2006, the U.S. and Colombia entered into a bilateral agreement (PDF), or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), to impose import restrictions on certain categories of pre-Columbian archaeological artifacts and ecclesiastical ethnological materials originating in Colombia.
The U.S. action was in response to a request from the Government of the Republic of Colombia made under Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention (PDF).
The U.S. and Colombia exchanged diplomatic notes on March 1, 2011, effecting the decision to extend the MOU for another five-year term, in effect from March 15, 2011 to 2016. Please refer to the diplomatic note from the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (translated) (PDF), the diplomatic note from the U.S. Government (PDF) to the Government of Colombia, and the amended text of Article II of the MOU (Español) (PDF).
II. Summary of the Basis for the Agreement
With respect to the 2006 Agreement, it was found that the pre-Columbian cultures of Colombia achieved a high degree of technological, agricultural, and artistic achievement; but that the scientific study of these ancient peoples is still in its early stages. Colombia's archaeological sites and their contents are the only window into this distant past. Only with systematic scientific study of intact sites can Colombia's ancient cultural history be written; when sites are looted, parts of the story are irrevocably lost. Colonial period ecclesiastical ethnological materials are also vulnerable to pillage. These objects are deeply meaningful for those who witness their ceremonial and ritual use. They continue to connect people to their past and to their cultural identity.
These remarkable resources are vulnerable to pillage, and much has been lost. However, the Government of Colombia has made great strides in raising public awareness regarding the importance of the heritage to the future of the country. The import restrictions are intended to reduce the incentive for pillage and illicit trafficking in cultural objects.
In addition to providing protection through import restrictions, the bilateral agreement also advances the agenda of the Summit of the Americas, where governments in the Western Hemisphere have pledged to enhance appreciation of indigenous cultures and cultural artifacts through various collaborative means.
III. Categories of Objects Subject to Import Restriction
Categories of restricted archaeological materials range in date from approximately 1500 B.C. to A.D. 1530, and include objects made of ceramics, textiles, metals, stone, shell, bone, wood, and basketry.
Restricted ethnological materials range in date from A.D. 1530 to 1830, and include original documents and incunabula; and objects used for rituals and religious ceremonies including Colonial religious art, such as paintings and sculpture, reliquaries, altars, altar objects, and liturgical vestments.
The Designated List (PDF) of protected object types was published by the Department of Homeland Security on March 17, 2006, in the Federal Register. The Colombia section of the Image Database illustrates most of the categories on the list.
IV. Import Restrictions
Objects described in the Designated List associated with the 2006 Agreement may enter the U.S. only if they have a valid export permit issued by Colombian authorities, or documentation that they left Colombia prior to March 17, 2006, the effective date of this restriction.
Under the 1973 Pre-Columbian Monumental or Architectural Sculpture or Murals Statute (PDF), monumental or architectural sculpture or murals may be imported into the U.S. only with an export license issued by the country of origin or documentation that they left the country of origin prior to June 1, 1973.
V. For More Information
United States: Cultural Heritage Center (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Learn more about the agreements countries have signed with the U.S. to protect cultural artifacts.