I. Cultural Property Agreement with the U.S.

On April 15, 1991, the U.S. took emergency action (PDF) to impose import restrictions on Maya archaeological artifacts from the Petén region of Guatemala. These restrictions were extended in 1994.

On September 29, 1997, the U.S. and Guatemala entered into a bilateral agreement (PDF), or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), to impose import restrictions on pre-Columbian archaeological artifacts from throughout Guatemala. Protection for the Petén material continues without interruption.

On September 29, 2002, the U.S. extended the MOU for a period of five years. On September 29, 2007, the U.S. extended the MOU for an additional term of five years, and amended Article II. On September 29, 2012, the U.S. extended the MOU for an additional term of five years, and amended the MOU to include certain categories of ecclesiastical ethnological material, which are included in the revised Designated List. On September 29, 2017, the MOU was extended and amended for five additional years.

II. Summary of the Basis for the Agreement

The agreement is in response to a request from the Government of Guatemala made under Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. (PDF)

With regard to the 1991 Emergency Action, it was found that the depredation of the Petén has been underway since the late 19th century, when explorers removed selected sculptures and monuments, such as altars, stelae and lintels, for collectors and museums in the U.S. and elsewhere. The intensification of this destruction of the region began, however, in the 20th century when looters organized to supply a growing demand for pre-Columbian archaeological pieces.

With regard to the 1997 MOU, it was found that looting throughout Guatemala has left few archaeological sites with their contexts and associations intact. While Guatemalan material enriches the collections of museums around the world, much of it was removed from its original context under uncontrolled conditions, resulting in the loss to science and history of an incalculable amount of information. The import restrictions are intended to reduce the incentive for pillage and illicit trafficking.

In addition to providing protection through import restrictions, the 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 Artifacts Subject to U.S. Import Restriction

The original Designated List (PDF) that describes Guatemalan archaeological object types subject to import restrictions was published by the Department of the Treasury in the Federal Register on October 3, 1997.  An amended Designated List was published in the Federal Register on September 28, 2012.

The categories of restricted Guatemalan objects date from approximately 2000 B.C. to A.D. 1821, and include pre-Columbian polychrome ceramic vessels, figurines, whistles, and stamps; pre-Columbian objects of jade, obsidian, flint, alabaster, calcite, shell, and bone; and Conquest and Colonial Period ecclesiastical ethnological objects of sculpture, painting, and metal..

IV. Import Restrictions

Objects from categories described in the Designated List may enter the U.S. only if they have an export permit issued by Guatemalan authorities, or documentation indicating that they left Guatemala prior to the effective dates of the restrictions: April 15, 1991, for archaeological material from Petén; October 3, 1997, for archaeological material from throughout Guatemala; and September 29, 2012 for Conquest and Colonial Period ecclesiastical ethnological material from throughout Guatemala. The United States has worked with Guatemala to create a photo guide to help law enforcement and the public identify Guatemalan cultural objects subject to U.S. import restrictions.

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 indicating that they left the country of origin prior to June 1, 1973.

V. For More Information

United States: The Cultural Heritage Center (

Guatemala: Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes
Instituto de Antropología e Historia
12 Ave. 11-65, Z. 1
Guatemala C.P. 01001
Telephone: + 502 232 5571
Fax: + 502 253 0540

Bilateral Agreements

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