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Mapping MOUs: An Interactive View Of Heritage Protections In Action

March 1, 2018

The looting and trafficking of cultural property is a threat in countries the world over, and particularly in nations facing crisis and conflict. With the U.S. serving as the world’s largest market for art and antiquities, many illicit artifacts are destined for this burgeoning market. But the United States can help mitigate this threat by enacting bilateral cultural agreements to stop illicit artifacts from making their way onto American shores.

Bilateral agreements, or memoranda of understanding (MOUs), between demand (“market”) countries and supply (“source”) countries are an effective tool in discouraging the illicit trade in antiquities. This is especially important for countries whose cultural heritage is at risk (or may soon be at risk) from armed conflict or violent extremist organizations.

Since the Arab Spring in 2011, cultural heritage across the Middle East and North Africa has been plagued by rampant industrialized looting, conflict, and trafficking by extremist groups. The United States has taken the important step of enacting emergency restrictions on imports of cultural property, and signing MOUs with these countries in crisis. In November 2016, Egypt became the first Arab nation to sign a bilateral cultural agreement with the United States. Just over a year later, in February 2018, Libya became the second.

This interactive map provides an overview of the 17 cultural MOUs currently in effect, along with two existing emergency actions in Syria and Iraq. Each highlighted country reveals information on when MOUs began and what archaeological and ethnological material is covered. Play around, interact, and scroll across the map to learn more about what is protected.

To learn more visit our page on bilateral cultural agreements.