U.S. Received Influx of $100 Million in Artifacts from Egypt and Turkey in 2016

U.S.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) repatriated five illegally smuggled ancient artifacts to the government of Egypt, including a mummy hand from the 8th century BCE, in Dec.  2016.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) repatriated five illegally smuggled ancient artifacts to the government of Egypt, including a mummy hand from the 8th century BCE, in Dec. 2016.
(ICE)

Live Science reports that about $50 million in artifacts were shipped from each Egypt and Turkey to the United States in 2016  — the highest annual value from each of those countries in at least 20 years, according to U.S. Census Bureau documents.

Documents reveal that antique gold coins made up a vast majority of shipments in 2016, and New York is the primary destination in the U.S. Resale value of the objects is unknown.

Determining which pieces are looted artifacts, including items smuggled into Turkey from war-torn Syria and Iraq, is a challenge. Misleading descriptions, a lack of photographs and fake documentation can hinder the detection of loot through customs. 

Live Science notes the issues in monitoring shipments: "The U.S. Census Bureau documents show that many of the artifacts are shipped under vague headings, such as 'antiques of an age exceeding 100 years.' Another vague heading simply states that the artifacts in a shipment are 'Collection and Collectors’ Pieces of Archaeological, Historical or Ethnographic Interest'.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has increasingly repatriated antiquities that have entered the marketplace. ICE reported in December that it had "returned more than 80 items to Egypt in four repatriations since 2007. ICE has returned more than 7,800 artifacts to over 30 countries, since 2007, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria, 15th-18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru, cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia, and two Baatar dinosaur fossils to Mongolia, antiquities and Saddam Hussein-era objects returned to Iraq, and most recently a 14th century Italian manuscript."

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