A collection of 67 artifacts illegally imported into the United States were returned to the Dominican Republic during a joint repatriation ceremony in Santo Domingo. The repatriation of these artifacts is the result of a series of seizures and several investigations conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
In May 2008, 66 artifacts were seized in three locations pursuant to an investigation that began in Jacksonville, Fla. In the first case, CBP officers in Orlando, Fla., seized 11 boxes arriving from the Dominican Republic manifested as “stone figurines” destined for an individual in Jacksonville.
In the second case, ICE HSI agents in Jacksonville identified and seized a shipment consigned to the same individual receiving artifacts in Jacksonville. A curator from the University of Florida determined the artifacts seized in Orlando and Jacksonville date from the periods of Chicoid A.D. 1200 to 1500; Archaic or later 2000 B.C. to A.D. 1200; or Ostionoid A.D. 1000 to 1500.
In the third case, a relative of the importer of the artifacts in the first two cases was encountered and detained by CBP officers at the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico as he returned from the Dominican Republic. He was carrying pre-Columbian artifacts.
CBP seized the artifacts, which were then sent for authentication by the Puerto Rico Institute of Culture. Two of the artifacts in this seizure date from the 19th or 20th Century, three from the 19th Century and two from the Taino culture, A.D. 1200 to 1500.
The individual encountered was the subject of an INTERPOL arrest warrant theft of protected antiquities in Mexico. He was arrested and turned over to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.
The second investigation took place in February 2011, when a CBP officer in Memphis, Tenn., selected a shipping container said to contain a “House Ornament Made of Stone.” After CBP inspected the artifact, it was held for investigation by HSI. Experts from Vanderbilt University and the University of Pennsylvania determined the artifact to be an owl-headed pestle, from the Taino culture, A.D. 700 to 1500.
Since 2007, ICE HSI has repatriated more than 2,500 items to more than 21 countries including paintings from France, Germany and Austria; an 18th century manuscript from Italy; and a bookmark belonging to Hitler as well as cultural artifacts from Iraq including Babylonian, Sumerian and neo-Assyrian items.