The United States Repatriates Cultural Artifacts to Mexico

Wednesday, August 23, 2023
The United States Repatriates Cultural Artifacts to Mexico

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and Homeland Security Investigations special agents repatriated cultural artifacts, some dating back to 900 B.C., to the Government of Mexico.

During the repatriation ceremony, CBP Area Port Director Michael Neipert presented 281 pieces of Mexican artifacts to Ambassador Carlos Giralt-Cabrales of the Consulate of Mexico in Little Rock, Ark.

Special agents from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Memphis participated in the repatriation. CBP partners with HSI in the detection, interception, investigation, and repatriation of cultural property. 

The seven shipments arrived from Mexico between 2016-2021, and were destined to addresses in California, South Carolina, and Florida. CBP officers suspected the products to be cultural artifacts and detained them. Officers then solicited assistance from HSI agents and the Government of Mexico officials who identified the products to be cultural artifacts of Mexico.

These nine shipments of artifacts included Olmec stature, Olmec figures, tubular beads, zoomorphic amulet, body adornments, bowls, earflares, human head amulet, temple effigy, prismatic blades, basalt grinding stone, tripod glass with lid, hand grinding stone, flint projectile points, carved obsidian, clay anthropomorphic figurines, clay and stone earmuffs, metallic ring string, stone spindle, clay winch, jars, sea snail shell fragments, vase and copper rattle.

Working with CBP’s Office of International Affairs and the Government of Mexico, CBP Area Port Director Neipert’s staff initiated the repatriation process, which led to Wednesday’s ceremony.

“On behalf of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, I am honored to return these priceless national treasures to the government and citizens of Mexico,” said Michael Neipert, CBP’s Area Port Director in Memphis. “Customs and Border Protection will continue to use our border authority to identify, rescue, and return precious antiquities being smuggled by those who profit on the theft of another country’s historical and cultural property.”

Customs and Border Protection officers and Homeland Security Investigations agents repatriate 281 cultural artifacts to the Government of Mexico in Memphis, Tenn., on August 16, 2023.

Some of the artifacts date back to around 900 B.C.

Most countries have laws that protect their cultural property, such as art, artifacts, antiquities, or other archeological and ethnological material. These laws include export controls and national ownership of cultural property.

These bilateral agreements protect cultural property by restricting U.S. import of certain categories of archeological and ethnological material, thus reducing incentive for looting at heritage sites. 

Therefore, although they do not necessarily confer ownership, consignees or importers must have documents such as export permits and receipts when importing such items into the United States.

Image on top : (L-R) HSI Special Agent Keith Hale, Mexico Deputy Consul Jose Aguilar, Supervisory CBP Officer Jack Bader, Mexico Ambassador Carlos Giralt-Cabrales, and CBP Area Port Director Michael Neipert.

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Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.


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