United States, Cyprus Extend Protections for Byzantine Treasures

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The United States and Cyprus have agreed to extend a 2002 bilateral agreement and to continue imposing import restrictions on a range of Byzantine treasures, such as priceless frescoes and floor mosaics, to protect them from pillaging.

Cypriot culture is among the oldest in the Mediterranean, according to a State Department Web page on the 2002 bilateral agreement, which adds: “There is a long history of documented pillage of archaeological sites in Cyprus, including evidence of current pillage; such activity jeopardizes the ability of archaeologists and historians to reconstruct Cypriot culture.”

The agreement includes the protection of certain Byzantine period ecclesiastical and ritual ethnological materials originating in Cyprus and representing the pre-Classical and Classical periods. Restricted works include fourth century through 15th century bronze, silver and gold ceremonial vessels and objects used in church rituals, such as censers and liturgical crosses, icons and carved wooden doors, ivory and bone objects engraved with biblical scenes, ecclesiastical vestments and mosaics and frescoes.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Customs and Border Protection on August 31 amended its regulations to reflect that the bilateral agreement on imports of archaeological material from Cyprus has been amended to include import restrictions that had been imposed previously on an emergency basis for such materials.

The restrictions, which were due to expire on September 4, came in response to a Cypriot request under the 1970 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) convention on cultural property, to which both countries are party. The restrictions originally had been imposed on an emergency basis in July 2002.

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