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San Juan CBP officers seize pre-Columbian artifacts

Release Date: 
January 28, 2015

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Five carved pieces dating to the time of the indigenous people of the Greater Antilles islands, were found last week inside the luggage of a traveler by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Field Operations officers at the Luis Munoz Marin International airport.

The traveler indicated that the 5 carved clay items were Arawak or Taino artifacts that were given to him as gift in the Dominican Republic.

Five Taino clay carvings found in San Juan

Five Taino clay carvings found in San Juan

The Arawak or Tainos were the indigenous people of the Greater Antilles islands; Cuba, Quisqueya (Hispaniola), Jamaica and Boriquen (Puerto Rico). 

An examination by the Archeology Department of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s Institute of Puerto Rican Culture confirmed all five pieces to be authentic.

Disposition of these items will be determined after careful examination until they can be returned to its rightful owner.

Most countries have laws that protect their cultural property. Art/artifacts/antiquities; archaeological and ethnological material are also terms used to describe this material. These laws include export controls and/ or national ownership of cultural property. Even if purchased from a business in the country of origin or in another country, legal ownership of such artifacts may be in question if brought into the United States.

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

While foreign laws may not be enforceable in the United States, they can cause certain U.S. laws to be invoked.

As additional U.S. import restrictions may be imposed in response to requests from other countries, it is wise for prospective purchasers to visit the State Department cultural property Web site.  This Web site also has images representative of the categories of cultural property for which there are specific U.S. import restrictions.

Last modified: 
February 9, 2017