news out of Vietnam recently concerning a new "circular" that will take effect on the 15th February, specifically banning nine new categories of ancient artifacts and documents from leaving the country...except for purposes of "exhibition, research, or preservation in foreign countries." It specifically includes prehistoric "fossilized" human, animal, and plant species, "prehistoric items of various materials of both historical and cultural value," relevant important documents pre and post-1945, and "ancient deposits" and items derived from Vietnam's ethnic minorities dating to pre-1975.
The wording of the missive as reported suggests that most categories of archaeological artifact will be included, ideally including human remains as well. The question still remains as to what changes this new law will effect regarding the vigilance and authority of Vietnamese Customs to seize and search shipments bound for export, as well as (the BIG question), what kind of previsions will be made to ensure that import/export requests made under the new "exhibition, research or preservation" criteria, especially from overseas parties, really are for these purposes? Relevant quarantine forms from specific University departments would be one valid example, but how will the issue of forgery and mislabeling on export permit/customs documents be dealt with?
Fundamentally, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism should be commended, and I foresee that such new legal measures will help to keep the international market in Vietnam-derived antiquities in check, while ongoing research continues to define and quantify the market itself. Many thanks to my colleague and friend Noel Hidalgo-Tan for initially picking up the story!