Stolen Chinese antiquities seized at Newark Airport

Federal agents from Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection officers confiscated two ancient Chinese artifacts that were being smuggled into the country through Newark Liberty International Airport. One is a 5,000-year-old prehistoric pot, the other a Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) horse-and-rider figurine. Both are in excellent condition.

“The illegal trade of cultural antiquities is one that affects us all,” U.S. Customs Director Robert E. Perez said in the statement. He said the joint team is “dedicated to intercepting these items and ensuring their safe return to their rightful owners.”

Prehistoric Chinese pot, ca. 5,000 years old Tang Dynasty horse and rider

Customs and Border Protection have seized five other stolen Chinese artifacts in New York and New Jersey just over the past year. The Chinese antiquities market is very hot right now thanks to the recent proliferation of moneyed Chinese buyers looking to reclaim cultural patrimony looted during foreign invasions and revolutionary fervor. It makes sense that the black market trade in smuggled stolen goods would be hot right now too.

Also, last year the United States and China signed a Memorandum of Understanding agreeing to step up efforts on both sides to stem the illicit trade in Chinese antiquities.

The trade agreement restricts the importation to the U.S. of cultural and archaeological materials from the Paleolithic through the Tang Dynasty (75,000 B.C.–A.D. 907), as well as monumental sculpture and wall art at least 250 years old. (A detailed list was published by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of the Treasury in the Federal Register on January 16, 2009.) Such archaeological material originating in China can only come into the U.S if accompanied by a valid export permit or other appropriate documentation from the Chinese government.

In addition to the import restrictions, the MOU requires that both countries take a number of steps. China, for example, pledges to expand efforts to educate its citizens about the importance of safeguarding its rich cultural heritage, to increase funding and other resources for protecting cultural heritage, and to block looted artifacts from entering the Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions, where much of the material currently comes onto the art market. The U.S. pledges technical assistance to China in protecting its cultural heritage. The agreement also outlines steps to foster loans to museums in the U.S., scholarly collaboration among archaeologists from both countries, and exchange of faculty and students. Both countries commit to educating their customs officers about cultural heritage and Chinese archaeological material. Both agree to share information that helps enforce applicable laws and regulations to reduce illicit trafficking in cultural property.

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Comment by edahstip
2011-03-07 23:08:30

Any word on where and from whom they were stolen? Private collection, museum, archaeological site?

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Comment by Jeff
2011-03-08 18:45:53

Hopefully the Chinese will take the software and DVD piracy just as serious…

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Comment by livius drusus
2011-03-19 20:34:26

No news whatsoever. I’ve found more often than not with these customs stories that there is very little follow-up in terms of investigation and legal action against the smugglers.

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Comment by livius drusus
2011-03-19 20:35:41

I don’t particularly hope that, actually. From my perspective, the preservation of history is far more important than corporate profits.

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Comment by Ancient Wisdom
2012-04-13 19:23:43

Traveled in Northern China and met some of these people who loot tombs. There is an entire strategy to it, and there are so many tombs that it is impossible to fully monitor what stays underground and what goes out – even in you are the Chinese government.

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Comment by Michael Morrison
2014-09-25 17:23:31

Old comment I know. But Liv said in a comment regarding modern-day piracy of intellectual property (IP):

“I don’t particularly hope that, actually. From my perspective, the preservation of history is far more important than corporate profits.”

Since I have become a programmer / web designer, I have come to really appreciate the hard work many artists put into movies, music, etc. Even if they DO work for a huge corporation such as EA. (And even though I hate EA as a company. 😉 )

I cannot agree that the protection of stolen historical patronage is “more important” than piracy. I feel they are both equally important in their own way, and I must say that China has to step up their efforts in preventing such theft. I know that I would be quite incensed if I find out someone has been d/l and u/l something I have created for their benefit, without my permission, or without agreeing to pay me for the work I did.

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