The export of Mexican cultural goods has been regulated by law since 1827. Subsequently, church cultural property and archaeological finds are also declared state property.

What is considered cultural property in Mexico?

Archaeological heritage includes movable and immovable archaeological objects and remains of living beings and plants from pre-Hispanic cultures. Historical cultural properties are objects related to Mexican history, starting with the Spanish conquest in 1519–1521, until the 19th century. Examples of historical cultural property are religious buildings such as temples and church buildings, as well as furniture from such buildings from the 16th to 19th centuries; archival documents and other documents of state and church institutions; rare handwritten and printed documents from the 16th to 19th centuries that are important for Mexican history; some scientific and technical collections. Works by Mexican artists (regardless of the place of origin) are considered artistic cultural property; works by foreign artists created in Mexico.

What are the export regulations?

There is a general ban on exports of archaeological, artistic and historical monuments, as well as fossil remains. Exceptions must be approved by the President of Mexico.

What sanctions are there?

Violations of the law, such as unauthorized excavations, illegal trade, transportation and reproduction, unauthorized export of archaeological objects, appropriation of historical objects and destruction of monuments, are punishable by prison sentences of two to twelve years and fines ranging from two to five thousand Mexican pesos.

Chronology of cultural property protection laws

  • 1827
    Customs regulations
    Regulation of the export of archaeological cultural property
  • 1859
    Law on the Nationalization of Church Property
    Expropriation of the clergy
  • 1896
    A decree authorizes the Mexican federal government to grant private individuals authorization to conduct archaeological excavations and research
    Conditions for obtaining authorization for archaeological excavations and research; export ban on antiquities; objects found during archaeological research are state property
  • 1897
    Federal Ordinance on Archaeological Cultural Property
    Archaeological cultural property is declared the property of the nation; the unauthorized export, research and restoration are prohibited; creation of the Archaeological Charter of the Republic; expropriation of land on which archaeological sites are located
  • 1930
    Law on the Protection and Conservation of Cultural Property and Natural Beauties
    Expropriation of land; sale of archaeological goods
  • 1934
    Law on the Protection and Preservation of Archaeological and Historical Heritage, Indigenous People and Places of Natural Beauty
    Establishment of the Monument Commission; establishment of the private archaeological land register
  • 1939
    Law on the Establishment of the National Institute of Anthropology and History
    Establishment of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH); protection, preservation and research of cultural property by the Institute
  • 1966
    Amendment of Article 73, Paragraph XXV of the Constitution of 1917
    Preamble to the subsequent legislation on the protection of cultural heritage
  • 1970
    Federal Law on the General Heritage of the Nation
    Registration and cataloguing of the cultural heritage of the nation
  • 1972
    Federal Law on Cultural Property and Archaeological, Artistic and Historical Zones (last updated in 2018)
    Creation of a new public register of cultural property and archaeological and historical zones; repatriation of cultural property; sanctions