It is in the news that a British geologist has been sentenced to 15 years for "intentionally taking or trying to take out of Iraq an antiquity", specifically 12 stones and shards of broken pottery which were in his and his college/friend possession as they attempted to leave the country. His main defense seems to be that he had no idea he was breaking Iraqi laws.

I know very little about archaeology, and less about laws around the world, but I would expect most if not all countries to prohibit the removal of antiquities without specific permission. I am also aware that one of the most important types of antiquity are pottery fragments, in terms of what we have learnt about history. I would expect a geologist with an interest in international archaeology to know more about laws regarding this than me.

What are the "usual" laws about taking such items out of a country? Any relevant jurisdiction would be interesting, but the best answer would compare multiple jurisdictions to give any idea of what someone who was familiar with this field might justifiably expect the law to be.

2 Answers 2


Here are examples from Tanzania, Kenya, Norway, Canada, and Iraq. See this article for an analysis of the myriad laws of Greece. The general situation is that there is no general situation, and it is necessary to read the law of the country, contemplating for all objects whether their export is allowed or forbidden. Many expressions are used to refer to restricted items, such as "cultural object", "monument", "antiquity". It turns out that paintings, boats and their parts that are older that 50 years old are on the list for Norway, but not Iraq. Tanzanian law is a bit flexible, in that "ethnographic objects" are on the list requiring a permit, defined as a think made by humans "for use in any social or cultural activity whether or not it is still being used by any community in Tanzania", regardless of age, "but does not include any object made, shaped, painted, carved, inscribed or otherwise produced or modified by human agency in Tanzania for sale as a curio" (because sale of tourist trinkets is big business in Tanzania). At times, an "informal export permit" can be required for goods of questionable provenance (for example, carved doors).

Most often, the definition of restricted items is framed in terms of kind of item and age, for example ethnographic object in an African or Asian style from before 1940 (Tanzania), the aforementioned Norwegian items either "before 1950" or "more than 50 years old". Ignorance of the law is no excuse, nor is inability to guess what will be considered to have "cultural significance".


The usual? Don't take culturally significant items out of the country.

There may be additional laws even if you just want to keep it. The Brits force you to give the first right of refusal to purchase your find to the national museum, and claims some finds for the Crown exclusively.

Of course none of this applies to the hoard looted from across the globe already in the British Museum.

  • "The usual? Don't take culturally significant items out of the country." To reduce risk don't take things out of the country that don't belong to you. In some places it is illegal to remove sand, stones and shells from beaches, let alone man-made items.
    – Lag
    Jun 9, 2022 at 8:44

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