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University of Washington to study ancient coins seized at U.S.-Canada border

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 19, 2021

Associated Press

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Dozens of ancient coins seized in 2017 at the U.S.-Canada border in Blaine have been transferred to the University of Washington to be studied, authorities said.

“These 51 Greek Hellenistic and early Islamic coins had no legal providence associated with them to validate if they were lawfully acquired and imported to the United States,” said a statement by Homeland Security Investigations Pacific Northwest, which has the authority under federal law to lead investigations involving illegal importation and distribution of cultural property and art.

Agency documents on the coin transfer said a suspect returned to the U.S. in 2017 through the Blaine border crossing after he was refused entry into Canada, the Bellingham Herald reported Thursday. Customs and Border Protection searched the suspect’s vehicle and discovered the coins, which were similar to ones found on the Red List of Afghanistan Antiquities at Risk, documents said.

Homeland Security Investigations agents determined the suspect, who was not identified, did not have documentation that he owned the coins, which showed signs of Bronze Disease — a form of corrosion that is an indication the coins had illegally been taken from the ground. He later signed an agreement to abandon the coins.

No government representatives from Afghanistan or any other countries claimed the coins, so they were legally forfeited to the U.S. government.

The Curator of the Special Collections Center of the University of Washington Libraries petitioned in 2019 to the Border Patrol to donate the coins. The coins were transferred to the university on Thursday.

“As a result of the dedicated efforts by (Homeland Security Investigations) Special Agents and (U.S. Customs and Border Patrol) Officers, the transfer of these coins will provide UW with an important opportunity to give students and researchers first-hand experience with antiquities they are unlikely to interact with elsewhere in their education,” the university said in a statement.

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