British Museum has Made Changes To Regulate ‘illicit items’ following theft, archaeologist says.

British Museum has Made Changes To Regulate ‘illicit items’ following theft, archaeologist says.

Increased Cooperation After Museum Thefts

Initial Lack of Response

Christos Tsirogiannis, a forensic archaeologist heading a Unesco group addressing the trafficking of illicit antiquities, claimed that the British Museum initially showed no interest in his investigation into “illicit items” within its collection. Tsirogiannis disclosed that when he first approached Museum director Hartwig Fischer on December 20, 2022, regarding post-1970 looted artifacts, he received no response. He also sent emails to the museum’s keepers responsible for managing various collections, but none of them replied.

Change in Response

However, the situation evolved after revelations of thefts from the British Museum surfaced. Approximately 2,000 artifacts, including gold jewelry, semi-precious stones, and glass, were discovered to have been stolen from the museum over a “significant” period. Consequently, Fischer resigned as museum director.

Reengagement After Resignation

Tsirogiannis considered this development an opportunity to reach out to the British Museum again. Following Fischer’s resignation and the concurrent step-back of his deputy, Jonathan Williams, on August 25, the British Museum responded to Tsirogiannis. They expressed their eagerness to cooperate and engage in discussions regarding his investigation into illicit items within the museum’s collection.

Agreement to Collaborate

Tsirogiannis stated that the British Museum agreed to collaborate with him and his team, with the condition that the museum would provide the necessary images of their artifacts. These images would enable Tsirogiannis to utilize a computer program currently under development to scan millions of images and identify potential illicit items.

Cataloging Challenges

It was revealed that the British Museum faced difficulties in cataloging its extensive collection, as not all artifacts had been recorded. Former chancellor George Osborne, now chairman of the museum’s trustees, acknowledged the absence of a complete catalog of items collected over centuries. Tsirogiannis expressed surprise at these cataloging challenges, considering the digital age and emphasized the primary responsibility of museums to record objects upon entry into their collections.

Louvre’s Reluctance

Despite the discovery of “illicit material” at the Louvre, Tsirogiannis noted that the Paris-based museum had avoided participating in his research, which focused on museums across Europe.

Commitment to Restore Reputation

Interim director at the British Museum, Sir Mark Jones, has pledged to restore the institution’s reputation amid ongoing challenges. A Metropolitan Police investigation is underway into the thefts and the overall management of the museum’s collection.

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