Cultural artifacts that were smuggled out of Belize and recovered by Special Agents of the National Park Service Investigative Services Branch (ISB) have been successfully repatriated to their country of origin. The artifacts were returned at a recent ceremony when the United States and Belize signed a cultural property agreement, solidifying their collaboration to combat looting and trafficking of cultural objects.
During a cultural property investigation conducted by ISB Special Agents, investigators discovered that a US citizen from California visited a number of archeological sites in Belize in 2000. Searching for artifacts, the man traveled to inland sites as well as on a caye in southern Belize. On the caye, he found an archeological site containing human remains, pottery fragments, at least one jade bead, and flaked stone material. He took many of the artifacts back to California with him without the permission of Belize, and did not declare them upon re-entry into the US.
The man made two subsequent trips to Belize as late as 2007 specifically to revisit the caye and collect any artifacts he could find. He smuggled all of the cultural property he found on his three trips through the Belize City airport.
ISB Special Agents were able to recover only part of the entire collection of stolen artifacts. These recovered items were returned to Belize through the US Embassy and the US Department of State. Among the chert tools and debitage was a piece of special importance that the Belize Institute of Archeology was particularly pleased to receive.
With the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding Concerning the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Categories of Archeological Material of Belize, the US and Belize set goals to protect cultural heritage and reduce the incentive to pillage. They are also working to increase lawful access to cultural objects and awareness of world heritage by encouraging interchange of materials for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.
“The United States has been unwavering in its commitment to protect and preserve cultural heritage in Belize and around the world,” the US Embassy in Belmopan, Belize, said in a statement. “Our policy is clear: the unlawful destruction of cultural heritage and the trafficking of cultural property are unacceptable.”