U.S., Algeria combat cultural property trafficking

Ancient stone gate and columns (© DeAgostini/Getty Images)
Gate of the ancient Roman city of Djémila (UNESCO World Heritage List, 1982), Algeria (© DeAgostini/Getty Images)

The U.S. is now placing new import restrictions on Algerian archaeological material dating from before 1750 C.E. — which includes objects from Algeria’s seven World Heritage sites, including Tipasa, Timgad and Djémila.

The restrictions are part of an August 15 memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and Algeria, formalizing the two countries’ longstanding cooperation on preserving Algeria’s cultural heritage.

The country’s spectacular ruins have attracted looters who plunder priceless objects for the lucrative international antiquities market.

Ongoing assistance

Since 2001, the U.S. Embassy in Algiers has supported the preservation of Algerian heritage through 10 separate grants from the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation totaling $436,727. These grants have supported the restoration of historic buildings, the conservation of manuscripts and museum collections, and the preservation of archaeological sites.

In January 2008, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) returned a marble bust of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius to the Algerian ambassador in a ceremony in Washington. The sculpture had been stolen during the 1996 robbery of an Algerian museum in the town of Skikda.

ICE seized the sculpture from Christie’s auction house in New York, where it had been offered for sale. The piece was spotted by INTERPOL as it emerged in the international market of cultural antiquities.

ICE experts worked with Algerian scholars to verify the statue’s identity and then notified the auction house that the piece was subject to seizure. The seizure was not contested.

More recently, experts from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted a workshop in Algiers in March 2019 on investigating and prosecuting the theft and illicit sale of antiquities. Participants included investigators, prosecutors and curators from the Algerian ministries of Culture and Justice.

The United States is dedicated to protecting and preserving cultural heritage around the world.