Destruction of Ancient ruins in Palmyra, Syria. 

Last week, The Kingdom of Jordan announced that they are creating an anti-smuggling division to protect antiquities. (See here –

Since the War in Iraq – the Jordanian authorities have seized 1,347 looted Iraqi antiquities and this may be only a fraction of the looted art that is in fact being smuggled through this Country. There is widespread pillaging of important archaeological sites across the globe, particularly in conflict zones.

Almost every week we see a fresh example of looted cultural property being announced from different regions of the world.

The previous week we saw the announcement in the press of the US authorities using trained sniffer dogs to sniff out smuggled artworks – the research programme is called K-9 Artifact Finders. (See the article here

In this article, it is stated: “The UN security council has confirmed that terrorists generate income from smuggling cultural property.” Michael Danti, an archaeologist who has worked in Iran, Iraq and Syria said: “A “huge percentage” of the third-century Dura-Europos site in Syria has been excavated illegally… It would take centuries for archaeologists to do that much excavation scientifically. That’s just one site. We see this all over the conflict zone.

Emergency Actions in Syria

On the UNESCO website regarding the problem in Syria it states as follows: “Illegal excavations and looting have exponentially increased since the beginning of the conflict in Syria. These actions have damaged many historical sites and museums, and important Syrian cultural property has disappeared from the country to end up on the black market and/or in private collections.

Numerous archaeological sites in Syria are being systematically targeted for clandestine excavations by well-organized and often armed groups. Excavated archaeological objects of cultural significance make a lucrative trade for unscrupulous dealers operating both locally and internationally. Sites situated near the borders are, in general, more susceptible to being targeted by looters who take advantage of their location to quickly and illegally export artefacts out of Syria.”

For more information about the Observatory of Syrian Cultural Heritage see here and for more information about initiatives to protect Syrian Cultural Heritage see here

Illicit trafficking is a world-wide problem

Artworks are not just stolen from conflict zones, they are taken from museums, churches, temples and archaeological sites in safe countries worldwide.

For example see this article about the £57 million worth of Chinese Jade artefacts stolen from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, which underscores that this type of crime happens in Western Countries too.

Italy is one such Country that faces a constant battle with looters. Only yesterday, 25th March 2018 it was announced in the press that there was a theft from a museum in Italy, Museo del Sannio in Benevento, in which some twenty vases dating back to the Hellenistic period (323-31 BCE) have been stolen and a complete inventory is still being compiled (see here

Only a few weeks ago I posted on Linkedin about a huge haul of 41,000 historical artefacts that had been illegally trafficked and was successfully recovered through a cooperative effort between Customs and police officers from 81 Countries. See The European Police Force’s operation here:

Looted art is a consistent problem in the art market and the scale of the problem is very high indeed. Stolen cultural property usually ends up for sale through sellers and art dealers who are usually unconnected with the looters, on online art websites, on the private market and on the black market, making it hard for police authorities to detect the crimes and recover the stolen artworks.

The market demand for rare antiquities is there and unfortunately this simply fuels the criminal enterprise of smugglers.