I. Cultural Property Agreement with the U.S.

On September 23, 1993, the U.S. took emergency action (PDF) to impose import restrictions on archaeological material from the Niger River Valley region and the Tellem burial caves of Bandiagara.

On September 19, 1997, the Government of the United States and the Government of the Republic of Mali entered into a bilateral agreement that continued without interruption the import restriction previously placed on the same archaeological material. On September 19, 2002, the agreement was extended for a period of five years.

Effective September 19, 2007, the agreement was amended and extended for an additional five years. The Designated List was also amended at this time to include archaeological material from throughout Mali dating from the Paleolithic Era (Stone Age) to approximately the mid-eighteenth century. The agreement was again amended and extended for an additional five years on September 19, 2012.

Effective September 19, 2017, the agreement was amended (PDF) and extended for an additional five years. The Designated List was also amended to include a category of ethnological material—ancient manuscripts.

II. Summary of the Basis for the Agreement

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

The agreement is intended to foster opportunities for Mali to further the regulatory, institutional, and educational measures it has already initiated, such as developing procedures for the inventory and classification of cultural property, establishing an improved export review system, and creating cultural missions to encourage local populations to safeguard sites against pillage, making them available for scientific excavation and public appreciation.

The import restriction is intended to reduce the incentive for pillage and illicit trafficking of cultural objects.

Archaeological sites throughout Mali represent a continuum of civilizations from the Paleolithic period to the 18th century, lending considerable significance to the region. The sites along the length of the Niger River Valley are the only source of information on the great civilizations that existed there. Around the World Heritage Site of Djenne-jeno, which functioned as an urban trade center from about 250 B.C. to A.D. 1400, some 80 to 90 percent of the sites have been plundered for objects for the international market. Stone Age sites in the Sahara - crucial to the formulation of early human history - are being destroyed in the search for marketable stone tools. Ancient manuscripts from heritage sites such as Timbuktu and Djenné are also in jeopardy of trafficking and/or destruction by terrorist groups operating in Mali. This devastation severely limits the ability of national and foreign scholars to understand the ancient cultures within modern Mali.

III. Categories of Objects Subject to Import Restriction

As described in the Designated List of 2017, types of restricted items include:

  • Archaeological materials: dating from the Paleolithic period to the 18th century A.D.: stone tools and ornaments, terracotta statues and common vessels, figurines and jewelry of copper and copper alloy, figurines of iron figures, and glass beads. Leather, textiles, iron objects, wood objects, and ceramic vessels from the Tellem burial caves are also restricted.
  • Ethnological materials: ancient manuscripts in paper dating between the 12th and 20th centuries.

IV. Import Restrictions

Restricted objects from Mali may be imported into the U.S. only if they have an export permit issued by the Government of Mali, or documentation indicating that they left Mali prior to the effective dates of the restrictions:

  • September 23, 1993, for objects from the Niger River Valley and the Tellem burial caves of Bandiagara, dating to before 1742; and
  • September 19, 2007, for the objects previously restricted, as well as Paleolithic Era objects from sites throughout the country including, but not limited to, the Tilemsi Valley, the Boucle du Baoule, the Bura Band, Tondidarou, Teghaza, Gao, Menaka, Karkarichinkat, Iforas Massif (Adrar des Iforas), Es-Souk, and Kidal.
  • September 19, 2017, for ancient manuscripts from throughout the country including, but not limited to, Timbuktu and Djenné.

V. For More Information

United States: Cultural Heritage Center (

Mali: Ministère de la Culture et du Tourisme de la Culture
Cité Administrative
Bat No.5 - BP: E 4075
Bamako, Mali
Tel: (223) 20 79 42 03

Bilateral Agreements

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