I. Cultural Property Agreement with the U.S.

On July 17, 2011, the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Hellenic Republic entered into a bilateral agreement (PDF), or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), to protect categories of archaeological material from the Upper Paleolithic Period through the 15th century A.D. and Byzantine ecclesiastical ethnological material through the 15th century A.D. Following completion by the Government of the Hellenic Republic of all internal legal requirements, the agreement entered into force on November 21, 2011 with the exchange of diplomatic notes.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and then Minister of Foreign Affairs Stavros Lambrinidis signed the MOU in a ceremony which took place in the Parthenon hall of the Acropolis Museum, overlooking the sacred hill of the Athenian Acropolis. At the time, the Secretary indicated that this agreement aims to prevent looting at Greece’s ancient sites and trafficking of objects in the international market. She added, "it will be illegal to import protected items from Greece into the United States unless they have been certified by the Greek authorities. And that will help reduce the incentive to illegally remove such objects in the first place. We know from experience that measures like this work... And in countries from Cambodia to Cyprus, we have seen real results. These agreements build on America’s long-term commitment to cultural preservation."

II. Summary of the Basis for the Agreement

The U.S. action is in response to a request from Government of the Hellenic Republic seeking protection of its cultural heritage made 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. (PDF)

The import restrictions are intended to reduce the incentive for pillage and illicit trafficking in cultural objects. Reports from Greece indicate that despite the strict provisions of its national heritage law, the monitoring by its extensive network government archaeologists, and the efforts of its numerous law enforcement officers, archaeological and ethnological objects have been and continue to be smuggled out of Greek territory, causing serious jeopardy to the cultural heritage of the country. The Greek Archaeological Service records evidence of unauthorized and clandestine digging throughout Greece. Much digging also occurs that is as yet unknown to the Archaeological Service. The extent of the phenomenon of the pillage is indicated by the large number of protected archaeological and ethnological objects confiscated by Greek law enforcement authorities. Indeed, between 1998-2008, many hundreds of such confiscations were made, most involving objects destined for illegal trade. One such case was the operation leading to the recovery of two life-sized marble statues representing heroic young men, called "kouroi," that were looted from a site near Klenia village in Corinthia. These arrested reportedly wished to sell them on the international art market for €10 million. Much of the looted material enters the United States and other countries. As a Greek Public Prosecutor pointed out, "the crimes concerning antiquities and the recidivism are a common phenomenon and perhaps it is not an exaggeration to speak of a kind of addiction or a passion."

The agreement is consistent with the recommendation of the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee.

III. Categories of Objects Subject to Import Restriction

The categories of archaeological materials covered by the import restriction include objects made of stone, metal, ceramic, bone, ivory, wood, glass artifacts, textile, papyrus, paintings (including wall paintings), and mosaics. The restricted archaeological material represents the Upper Paleolithic Period (beginning approximately 20,000 B.C.) through the 15th century A.D., and the restricted ecclesiastical ethnological material represents the Byzantine culture from approximately the 4th century through the 15th century A.D.

A detailed description of the object types covered by this agreement may be found in the Designated List (PDF), published in the Federal Register by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of the Treasury.

IV. Import Restrictions

Objects from categories described in the Designated List may enter the U.S. only if they are accompanied by an export permit issued by the appropriate authority in the Government of the Hellenic Republic, or by verifiable documentation indicating that they left Greece prior to the effective date of the restriction: December 1, 2011.

V. For More Information

United States: Cultural Heritage Center (

Greece: General Directorate of Antiquities
Address: 20-22 Bouboulinas Str., 106 82 Athens
Telephone: 210-82.01.306, 82.01.666, 82.01.258
Fax: +30 210 8201305

Bilateral Agreements

Learn more about the agreements countries have signed with the U.S. to protect cultural artifacts.