Dominican Republic Cultural Artifacts are Returned After Being Illegally Imported into the U.S.

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.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Dominican Republic Cultural Artifacts are Returned After Being Illegally Imported into the U.S.

  1. cafolkman says:

    I agree that a lot of artifacts have been stolen, and that these artifacts belong to the nations they come from and should be returned to them. It is also unfortunate to think about how many artifacts haven’t been uncovered, and how much that art importer may have sold before he was caught. However, I agree with some other comments that increased efforts really should be made in the countries that are being stolen from, rather than in the more wealthy countries. I think that prevention is really the answer in this case, and that these countries should work to improve their own security so that these artifacts never leave their country, rather than more wealthy countries working harder to return items that have already been stolen.

  2. sjchretien says:

    This case is an example of why the United States should monitor who and what crosses its borders. Thankfully, these particular artifacts were returned to the Dominican Republic. But, for each successful return of objects of great cultural value, there may be two or three or more instances of illegally-transported artifacts getting to their illegal destination. US Customs must make every effort to intercept inappropriate exchanges of historical objects, whether they are leaving the country or coming into the country.

  3. mcbohn says:

    I think you make a really good point in reference to these artifacts being transported from poor areas to more wealthy nations. The high rate of antiquities theft, and the price I am sure they would go for on the black market, though, is truly a testament to the value of these goods. It is important to recognize that this price and this monetary value is directly correlated to the cultural and historical significance of the object. Perhaps it would help these poorer areas if they worked not only to prevent theft, but to better use the artifacts (i.e. tourism) in order to increase revenue for the country.

  4. raphillips says:

    To me, the most incredible part about artifact smuggling is that people can actually transport these items almost completely unnoticed. It astonishes me that people would take these items away from a culture to which they have so much meaning. I am glad that the artifacts were returned, however, I do think that ore strict regulations and protections should be placed on ancient artifacts that way in the process of being stolen, they are not damaged further or permanently destroyed.

Leave a Reply