A total of 67 artifacts from the Dominican Republic were returned after being illegally imported into the United States. The repatriation of these artifacts was brought about by a number of seizures and investigations conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Sixty six artifacts were seized in three locations in May of 2008, in accordance with an investigation that commenced in Jacksonville, Florida. Eleven boxes containing Dominican stone figurines destined for an individual in Jacksonville were first seized by CBP officers in Orlando, Florida. Homeland Security investigators in Jacksonville next seized a second shipment of artifacts, en route to the same individual. A University of Florida curator proposed the Orlando and Jacksonville artifacts to date from the periods of Chicoid A.D. 1200 to 1500; Archaic or later 2000 B.C. to A.D. 1200; or Ostinoid A.D. 1000 to 1500. In the third case, a relative of the Jacksonville importer was captured and detained by Customs officials in Puerto Rico, due to an attempt to smuggle pre-Columbian artifacts. Two of the artifacts seized date from the 19th or 20th century, three from the 19th century, and two from the Taino culture (A.D. 1200 to 1500). The detained individual was also under an arrest warrant for theft of antiquities in Mexico and is currently in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.
Another investigation occurred when a Customs official in Memphis, Tennessee, intercepted a shipping container said to contain a “House Ornament Made of Stone.” Experts from Vanderbilt University and the University of Pennsylvania determined the artifact to be a Taino (A.D. 700 to 1500) owl-headed pestle.
The article concluded by stating that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security investigators have repatriated more than 2,500 items to more than 21 countries, since 2007. This is an astonishingly high figure to me and I believe that more should be done to lower these numbers. To me, art serves more than just aesthetic or functional purposes, but is also an integral component to studying and understanding history. In my opinion, both the nation from which the artifacts are stolen and the receiving nation share responsibility in preventing theft. However, transnational antiquities theft very often involves a wealthy nation – or a variety of wealthy nations – stealing from a poorer and less industrialized nation. In other words, transnational antiquities theft is frequently an example of wealthier nations exploiting the resources of poorer areas. Therefore, I believe that it is the wealthier nations that should most strongly take actions to ensure that antiquities theft does not occur.