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  • Louise Wagon

The British Museum asks for help to retrieve stolen antiquities

On Tuesday September 26, the British Museum published photos on its website resembling some of the hundreds of pieces stolen from its collections, asking for the public's help in finding the lost antiquities.

Vol au British Museum
Gold necklace with lion-head clasps, Ancient Greece. © British Museum

In August, the British Museum revealed that almost 2,000 objects, mainly jewelry, semi-precious stones and glassware, belonging to the Greco-Roman department, had been stolen from the storerooms. The objects were allegedly stolen by the department's chief curator, Peter Higgs, who was sacked earlier this year. The scandal led to the resignation of the museum's director, Hartwig Fischer, and his deputy, Jonathan Williams.


On its website, the institution has not given precise details of the stolen objects, so as not to facilitate their concealment or destruction. "Providing too much detail risks allowing those who hold such works and act in bad faith to avoid detection," James Ratcliffe, a member of the Art Loss Register, explained to the Guardian. As for British Museum's jewels, there might be a risk that the holders will melt the gold mount to extract scrap value.


So far, "60 objects have been recovered, and a further 300 identified should be returned shortly", the museum said in a statement. It did not reveal the number of antiquities identified among the remaining 1,600 missing objects. Some of them may not have been photographed or fully described, which could make identification more difficult.


The museum is collaborating with London's Metropolitan Police in the investigation. It is also monitoring the art market, including online. The London institution has also set up a group of specialists to assist in the recovery of lost antiquities. Members include James Ratcliffe, as well as Lynda Albertson of the Art Crimes Research Association. The other 12 members are mainly gem and antique jewelry specialists, based in Europe. Only two are based in the UK and one in the USA. The operation is being led by the museum's Greco-Roman department, which can be contacted at recovery@britishmuseum.org.


The British Museum has also registered the stolen objects on the Register of Lost Works of Art, an international database consulted by art professionals, collectors, insurers, and law enforcement agencies.

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