I. Cultural Property Agreement with the U.S.
On May 7, 1990, the U.S took emergency action (PDF) to impose import restrictions on Moche artifacts from the Sipán archaeological region of northern Peru.
On June 9, 1997, the U.S. and Peru entered into a bilateral agreement (PDF), or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), placing import restrictions on pre-Columbian archaeological artifacts and Colonial ethnological materials from all areas of Peru. The MOU continues the import restrictions on archaeological material from the Sipán region without interruption.
The MOU was extended for a five-year period and amended (PDF) effective June 9, 2002. It was amended (PDF) and extended for an additional five-year period effective June 9, 2007, and extended and amended (PDF) again for a period of five years effective June 9, 2012.
II. Summary of the Basis for the Agreement
The agreement is in response to the request from the Government of Peru made under Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. (PDF)
With regard to the 1990 emergency action, a particularly dramatic situation galvanized a coastal community. In 1986, looters discovered a rare, intact elite tomb near the town of Sipán, in northern Peru. They cleared out the first tomb before authorities could stop them. Although a group of archaeologists, police, and volunteers was assembled to guard the area, and excavate other areas before further destruction could happen, a flood of extraordinary objects of refined workmanship quickly emerged on the international market. The notoriety of the find made it difficult for these unique materials to circulate unnoticed. The emergency restriction focused on the looted objects from the Sipán region. Over the ensuing two years, archaeologists working there discovered additional elite and royal tombs, and their painstaking excavation yielded more detailed knowledge about ancient Peruvian culture than had any single effort in the past.
With regard to the 1997 MOU, it was found that the systematic looting of archaeological sites in Peru and the pillage of ethnological material important to the religious and social life of indigenous people was widespread, causing irreparable loss to science, history, and traditional culture.
The import restriction imposed by the United States is intended to reduce the incentive for pillage and illicit trafficking of Peruvian cultural objects, and to support initiatives already underway in Peru to provide sustainable protection for archaeological resources throughout the nation.
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
The Designated List (PDF), published in the Federal Register on June 11, 1997, by the Department of the Treasury, describes the types of Peruvian objects subject to import restriction. Most of these object types are illustrated in the Peru section of the Image Database.
Types of restricted archaeological objects date from c. 12,000 B.C. to A.D. 1532. Categories include textile and feather objects; metal figurines, vessels, weapons, jewelry; ceramic vessels, figurines, and beads; stone, bone, straw, wood, and cane artifacts; and human remains.
Types of restricted ethnological objects from the Colonial period (A.D. 1532-1821) include clothing, painting, sculpture, wood and metal artifacts related directly to the pre-Columbian past, and objects used for religious evangelism among indigenous peoples.
IV. Import Restrictions
Objects of the types described in the Designated List may enter the U.S. only if they have an export permit issued by Peruvian authorities, or documentation indicating that they left Peru prior to the effective dates of these restrictions: May 7, 1990, for pre-Columbian material from the Sipán archaeological region; and June 11, 1997, for pre-Columbian and Colonial materials from all areas of Peru.
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)
Peru: Instituto Nacional de Cultura
Av. Javier Prado Este 2465
San Borja, Lima 41
Telephone: + 51 1 476 9933
Fax: + 51 1476 9901
Learn more about the agreements countries have signed with the U.S. to protect cultural artifacts.