Artifacts and Antiques Worth Nearly $100 Million Shipped from Egypt and Turkey to the U.S.

This 2,000-year-old Egyptian sarcophagus was found by U.S. law enforcement and was returned to Egypt in 2011. LUIS MARTINEZ/U.S. IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT

About $50 million worth of artifacts and antiques were shipped from both Egypt and Turkey to the United States in 2016 — the highest annual value from each of those countries in at least 20 years, according to U.S. Census Bureau documents.

The artifacts, totaling about $100 million between the two countries, were imported “for consumption” and not for temporary display in a museum, the documents say. Most of the artifacts were shipped to New York City, where numerous antiquities dealers, auction houses and art galleries are based. It can be difficult to determine whether a shipment of artifacts was recently looted, law enforcement officials told Live Science.

In addition, the actual resale value of the shipments may be higher because the values seen in the documents are simply those that importers declared, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said. Audits are occasionally conducted on shipments, but the spokesperson declined to say how often they occur.

Egypt has experienced extensive looting since the country’s 2011 revolution. The looting is linked to the deaths of children (who were killed while working in narrow looting shafts) and antiquities guards (who were shot dead while trying to protect sites). An agreement between the United States and Egypt designed to curtail the antiquities trade was signed in November 2016 and went into effect near the end of that year.

Meanwhile, Turkey shares a vast border with both Iraq and Syria, two countries that have experienced heavy looting as a result of ongoing wars. Last year, a Live Science investigation revealed that artifact shipments between Turkey and the U.S. increased after Iraq was invaded in 2003, and then increased further after the civil war in Syria started in 2011. Scholars and multiple governments including the United States have documented that artifacts are being sent from Iraq and Syria to Turkey before being sold abroad. Additionally, a coup attempt occurred in Turkey in July 2016, although scholars and law enforcement officials declined to speculate on whether the coup attempt is leading to more artifacts being shipped from Turkey to the U.S.

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