After placing an ad for ancient coins on an online marketplace for second-hand goods, a Greek man suspected of dealing illegally excavated antiquities was arrested by police.
After searching the 45-year-old suspect’s home – in a village near the city of Larissa – police found 28 copper coins “from ancient Greek and medieval times,” reported the Associated Press on June 8. Police also found nearly 30 other antiquities, including pieces of bronze jewelry, lead seals and old bullets. Conducted by Greece’s “Cyber Crime Division,” the investigation began after the online ad was posted, police said.
The discovery of rare and valuable antiquities is common in the southeastern European country – often referred to as the “cradle of civilization” – but all artifacts are considered state property; any unauthorized possession or sale is illegal.
In fact, virtually every country, including Canada, has laws that limit or prohibit the import or export of antiquities – also known as cultural property.
The push to protect cultural property gained momentum in the 1970s, with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import and Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, which Canada signed in 1978.
Today, the convention has been ratified by 139 nations, the most recent of which is Latvia on Jan. 21.
Dealers, museum curators and other people working with cultural property in these countries are told to exercise “due diligence” to determine if an object is being held under clear and legal ownership.
Canada also has its own national acts and legislation, including the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, the Cultural Property Export Regulations and the Canadian Cultural Property Export Control List.
In Canada, the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board is an independent administrative tribunal that determines whether cultural property “is of outstanding significance and national importance with a view to protect and preserve significant examples of Canada’s artistic, historic, and scientific heritage.”
Property is categorized into eight groups, including:
- objects, including archaeological objects plus fossils and minerals, recovered from the soil or waters of Canada;
- objects of material ethnographic culture such as Aboriginal, Métis and Inuit artifacts;
- military objects;
- objects of applied and decorative arts;
- objects of fine arts;
- scientific and technological objects;
- textual and graphic records, sound recordings and archival material, including documents, photographs, maps, sound recordings and films; and
- musical instruments.