Jump to content

Ancient Egyptian artifact up to 3,000 years old seized by federal agents in Tennessee


Recommended Posts

31 minutes ago, CPK said:

I wonder what exactly made it illegal for the guy to buy and possess it? Was it a looted artifact?

The initial seizure seems to have been the result of "contradictory statements regarding the declared value of the item" according to the article. The authorities then realized that the object which was declared as an "antique stone sculpture over 100 years old" in fact belongs to a restricted class.

CBP press release:

https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/local-media-release/memphis-seizes-ancient-egyptian-artifact

 

Edited by DLTcoins
  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Benefactor

It would be interesting to have additional information, such as the country of origin, seller and exactly what was stated on the declaration form.  Obviously something about the package set off alarm bells at Customs.  I also wonder what the ratio is for every illegal artifact that is detected and seized, how many slip by.  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

According to the statement, the object is an "Egyptian canopic jar lid of the funeral deity named Imsety." The jars typically held mummies' internal organs — and in this case, the jar held Imsety's liver.

Does that really say what I think it does? 🤔

Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, robinjojo said:

It would be interesting to have additional information, such as...seller...

 

It was listed at Helios here: https://heliosgallery.com/antiquities/catalogue/featured/heads/egyptian-alabaster-canopic-lid-of-imsety/#

 

But I don't know if the sale and shipment to the American buyer were by Helios (Rolf von Kiaer) or by a subsequent seller. I'm not sure when Rolf had it listed. Rolf is highly respected, BTW - one of the best.

 

Edited by Kamnaskires
  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The list of things you can't import from Egypt without a pre-2016 provenance is https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/12/03/2021-26348/extension-and-amendment-of-import-restrictions-on-archaeological-material-and-imposition-of-import

It would be great to know the declared value of the canopic jar vs the amount the seller paid.  My understanding is that these values must be the same or the item can't be legally imported.

The National Geographic TV series "To Catch a Smuggler" had an episode "Mobile Meth" where they show what happens when US Customs finds Egyptian artifacts with bad paperwork.  https://www.nationalgeographic.com/tv/shows/to-catch-a-smuggler/episode-guide/season-02/episode-12-mobile-meth/vdka22984472

Last week I imported a Ukrainian table medal commemorating the Chernobyl tragedy dated 1991.  I paid $32 for this medal and the seller declared the value as $20.  I don't know why sellers do this!  I really expected to see either $32 or the $41 I paid with shipping on the paperwork, not $20.  I don't know if I have any obligation to tell US Customs the true value, given that there is no duty on $32 or $41 items either.

  • Like 2
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Benefactor
Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, Ed Snible said:

The list of things you can't import from Egypt without a pre-2016 provenance is https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/12/03/2021-26348/extension-and-amendment-of-import-restrictions-on-archaeological-material-and-imposition-of-import

It would be great to know the declared value of the canopic jar vs the amount the seller paid.  My understanding is that these values must be the same or the item can't be legally imported.

The National Geographic TV series "To Catch a Smuggler" had an episode "Mobile Meth" where they show what happens when US Customs finds Egyptian artifacts with bad paperwork.  https://www.nationalgeographic.com/tv/shows/to-catch-a-smuggler/episode-guide/season-02/episode-12-mobile-meth/vdka22984472

Last week I imported a Ukrainian table medal commemorating the Chernobyl tragedy dated 1991.  I paid $32 for this medal and the seller declared the value as $20.  I don't know why sellers do this!  I really expected to see either $32 or the $41 I paid with shipping on the paperwork, not $20.  I don't know if I have any obligation to tell US Customs the true value, given that there is no duty on $32 or $41 items either.

2016? I thought it had to have been outside Egypt 10 years before the importation unto the USA.

I would be very surprised if the dealer were Helios and there were anything wrong with the paperwork. In my experience, Rolf's paperwork is always fine, and the stated value always matches what I paid.

 

Edited by DonnaML
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Benefactor
3 hours ago, Kamnaskires said:

 

It was listed at Helios here: https://heliosgallery.com/antiquities/catalogue/featured/heads/egyptian-alabaster-canopic-lid-of-imsety/#

 

But I don't know if the sale and shipment to the American buyer were by Helios (Rolf von Kiaer) or by a subsequent seller. I'm not sure when Rolf had it listed. Rolf is highly respected, BTW - one of the best.

 

Thank you for the link.  The provenance of the object seems good, having been acquired in the late 19'th to early 20'th century, provided there's documentation to back that up.  I must say that people back then had a pretty cavalier attitude about some antiquities back then, using this jar lid as a garden ornament, cemented to a brick wall - different values back then I guess.

So it seems that the issue is the declared value of this object?  Sounds like a bit of a tangle.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

14 hours ago, CPK said:

I wonder what exactly made it illegal for the guy to buy and possess it? Was it a looted artifact?

Of course it's a looted artifact ! Unfortunately all this coins and artifacts are all from illegal excavations . How a normal citizen could have in hand an antiquity without an illegal excavation ? Only the government can do a legal excavation .

Link to comment
Share on other sites

8 hours ago, DonnaML said:

2016? I thought it had to have been outside Egypt 10 years before the importation unto the USA.

You are the lawyer.  I only know what I read online.

I was referring to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), effective December 5th 2016: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/12/06/2016-29191/import-restrictions-imposed-on-certain-archaeological-material-from-egypt

These items (probably) cannot be imported without evidence they left Egypt before the MOU was published.

Of course, Customs always blocked imports if their paperwork was no good.  For example https://eg.usembassy.gov/united-states-returns-ancient-artifacts-egypt-national-geographic-society/ , a press release covering items returned including 68 coins.

Egypt banned ALL exports of artifacts after 1983.  Any artifact that was in Egypt before that is considered stolen goods and cannot be imported.

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Benefactor

I've thought that the original statutory authority for the prohibition of illegal importation of antiquities goes back to the 1970 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (823 U.N.T.S. 231 (1972)), followed by more specific rules including the 2016 ban on the importation of Egyptian antiquities.  I guess the 1970 agreement is the foundation, with subsequent MOUs, including the 2019 agreement with Yemen that snagged a coin I ordered from Canada in US Customs last year. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Benefactor
Posted (edited)
On 8/28/2022 at 8:09 AM, Ed Snible said:

You are the lawyer.  I only know what I read online.

I was referring to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), effective December 5th 2016: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/12/06/2016-29191/import-restrictions-imposed-on-certain-archaeological-material-from-egypt

These items (probably) cannot be imported without evidence they left Egypt before the MOU was published.

Of course, Customs always blocked imports if their paperwork was no good.  For example https://eg.usembassy.gov/united-states-returns-ancient-artifacts-egypt-national-geographic-society/ , a press release covering items returned including 68 coins.

Egypt banned ALL exports of artifacts after 1983.  Any artifact that was in Egypt before that is considered stolen goods and cannot be imported.

I think you're right -- there has to be documentation that an object was out of Egypt at least 10 years ago or at the time the MOU became effective, whichever is later.  I have little doubt that this artifact meets that standard: it's easy to see from the photo that it's in very poor condition, with the features almost completely worn away. In other words, it looks exactly like what it purports to be, namely an artifact that's been sitting in an English garden, exposed to the weather, for about a century! Artifacts recently excavated in Egypt simply don't ever look like that. 

I also don't understand what difference it makes if there was a discrepancy between the stated value and the purchase price. Remember that there's no customs duty owing on this kind of ancient artifact (or coin) when it's imported into the USA. Ironically, the reason people sometimes understate the value is actually to avoid drawing the attention of Customs (or thieves)! It obviously didn't work in this case, if that was the motive.

 

Edited by DonnaML
  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

5 hours ago, DonnaML said:

I also don't understand what difference it makes if there was a discrepancy between the stated value and the purchase price. Remember that there's no customs duty owing on this kind of ancient artifact (or coin) when it's imported into the USA. Ironically, the reason people sometimes understate the value is actually to avoid drawing the attention of Customs! It obviously didn't work in this case, if that was the motive.

I am a software engineer.  I am good at reading rules.  The law looks like rules, but legal interpretation of the meaning might be different from the plain English meaning as interpreted by an engineer.

Non-lawyers can read https://www.cbp.gov/trade/basic-import-export/internet-purchases which says “Giving misleading or inaccurate information about the nature of the item and its value is illegal. And it is the importer - YOU - who could face legal action and fines for this violation!”

Lawyers can read https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-19/chapter-I/part-145/subpart-B/section-145.11 which says “Shipment of merchandise which are not accompanied by a Customs declaration and invoice in accordance with paragraphs (a) through (b) of this section may be subject to seizure and forfeiture in accordance with § 145.4.”

Paragraph b says there needs to be an accurate description of the purchase price.  I don’t know what “subject to seizure and forfeiture” means.  For example, does it mean “forever”, or until the goods are cleared?  Another paragraph explains how the goods must be described.  And what if the goods were never cleared because there was no Customs notice on the invoice?

It is nearly impossible to get numismatic shippers to declare goods at a level that a software engineer expects.

Attached is an image of a table medal I purchased in March from a Ukrainian seller and received this month.  I will discuss it because it is the most recent thing I've imported, and because it is a cool medal.

chernobyl-both.jpeg.ce4832cc0244cf5eeca3d3c38642603a.jpeg

USSR, 1991. Artists: N. G. Balsky, V. L. Iofin, F. I. Borovik
Chernobyl nuclear accident power plant/station atomic medal, tombac (a brass/zinc alloy), 60mm, 135g
Obv: Semicircle (schematically designating a nuclear reactor and/or the sarcophagus) in the flat lower part of which is the inscription ЧАЕС, and in the upper three vertical rods - a schematic representation of TVEL fuel rods lowered into the reactor.
Rev: Half-dead leaf with raindrop (or tear?). Н Бальский В Иофин Ф Боровик LMD Hallmark; 1991.
Mintage: said to be 3000-5000. Leningrad mint (LMD).
 

Allow me to explain what happened.  (This is not a request for legal advice.)

I paid $32 ($41 with shipping) via eBay.  The seller’s post office was closed — because his town is occupied by Russians.  It took him three months to get the medal to Kyiv for international posting.  To compensate me for the delay he added 21 modern coins and a Moscow subway token for free to the parcel.  Here is my analysis of the Customs declaration.

  • The envelope had two Customs declarations.  A handwritten one giving the value of $20, and a printed electronic one giving the value of $15 + $1.  I expected both to give the $32 purchase price or $41 total price with shipping.
  • The item was declared as a “gift” rather than “sale of goods”.  The extra coins were a gift; perhaps both “gift” and “sale of goods” should have been checked?
  • The inventory listed 20 coins and a medal.  I expected it to say 21 coins, 1 medal, and a subway token.
  • The Country of Origin was given as Ukraine for the medal.  The medal was minted at the Leningrad mint in the USSR on behalf of the Ukraine SSR.  I have no clue if the origin should be Russia, Ukraine, or "USSR."  I am pretty sure it can't be "USSR", as only current countries are allowed.
  • The Country of Origin for the coins was given as Ukraine for all the coins.  Included were USSR, Russian, and Ukrainian small change as a gift.
  • The weight was perfect!  That was a surprise.  (Customs forms for ancient coins often give weights like "1 oz" for a 0.6g coin.)

As a computer guy, I feel the parcel wasn’t labeled perfectly.  Was it good enough for legal purposes?  There is no Customs Duty for these items, so perhaps it doesn’t matter from a legal point of view.
As a human being, I feel like the forms are “close enough” given the conditions of the current occupation.
I wonder if the medal is still “subject to seizure” by US Customs -- or if the possibility of seizure ended when it was cleared?  What about the undeclared subway token?

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Benefactor

It seems that the documentation satisfied Customs.  

No, Customs won't seize the medal, since it cleared inspection and you now have it.  That's a cool looking medal, by the way.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...