U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will sign an agreement with Egypt today (Nov. 30) that will restrict the importation of Egyptian artifacts to the United States.
"Under the agreement, the United States will impose import restrictions on archaeological material representing Egypt's cultural heritage dating from 5200 B.C. through 1517 A.D.," reads a statement from the U.S. Department of State. "Restrictions are intended to reduce the incentive for pillage and trafficking and are one of the many ways the United States is fighting the global market in illegal antiquities."
The agreement will be signed in a televised ceremony between Kerry and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. For years, the Egyptian government has been asking for an agreement to help curtail the widespread looting that has hit the country since the 2011 Egyptian revolution. [In Photos: Looting Across Egypt]
A Live Science investigation published in August revealed that since the 2011 revolution, more than $143 million worth of artifacts have been exported from Egypt to the United States. Interviews done with experts and officials during the investigation revealed that some of the artifacts may have been looted. Among other things, the sources told Live Science that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol does not have the resources to audit every artifact shipment and that it was difficult to prove that a particular shipment was being illegally imported. The claims made by the sources were backed up by documents and photos obtained by Live Science during the investigation.
Moreover, children died in unsafe tunnels while helping looters remove artifacts from an ancient cemetery, according to research done by members of Egypt's Heritage Task Force, which has been tracking looting in Egypt. Photos released by members of the task force showed the children working at the cemetery and in deep narrow tunnels.
How effective will the restrictions be?
It remains to be seen how effective the restrictions will be at keeping stolen Egyptian artifacts from reaching the United States. The U.S. has similar restrictions on imports from Iraq and Syria, but shipments of artifacts from those countries have still arrived.
For instance, despite import restrictions on Iraq, an "antiques" shipment (as it was labeled) with a declared value of $3.5 million passed through customs in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in August 2013, according to documents released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Neither the Census Bureau nor Customs and Border Patrol has revealed the exact contents of the shipment due to laws restricting the release of trade information.
Additionally, a Live Science investigation published in September revealed that some smugglers may have gotten around the Iraq and Syria restrictions by shipping artifacts to the U.S. through Turkey, which shares a border with both Syria and Iraq. The investigation revealed that since 2003, more than $283 million worth of artifacts have been exported from Turkey to the United States. Experts interviewed by Live Science said those shipments may have included artifacts looted in Syria and Iraq that were smuggled to Turkey before being sent to the United States.
Original article on Live Science.