Stolen relief from a London collection, identified by the British Museum in 2014 as coming from a building of Thutmose IV in Karnak, and now back in Egypt. ©

Marcel Marée

We are pleased to award the Circulating Artefacts: a cross-platform alliance against the looting of pharaonic antiquities project £998,769

This project will create a new database of Egyptian and Nubian artefacts currently in circulation on the international art market, and those held in private collections, to counteract looting and illegal trafficking.

Cultural heritage in Egypt and North Sudan

This project focusses on protecting the cultural heritage of Egypt and Nubia, which share 6000 years of ancient history and culture. Dating from Predynastic to Late Antique times (c. 6000 BC - AD 1000), the legacy of ancient Egypt and Sudan is renowned for its outstanding preservation and it is vital for our understanding of early civilisation.

Conflict has resulted in growing levels of looting in Egypt and Sudan, causing increasing damage to archaeological sites and museums, and resulting in cultural objects illegally entering the international art market. Houses are often built on antiquities land and illicit digging occurs, with exposed monuments vandalised and looted.  

Detecting, tracking and counteracting looting and trafficking

In this project, the British Museum will train, equip and support staff in Cairo and Khartoum to build an open access semantic database of cultural heritage artefacts circulating on the international art market. 

The database will collect information from auctioneers, dealers, collectors, government bodies, law enforcement agencies and museum de-accession lists. Each object will receive a unique record, including its collection history presented in English and Arabic. Over the lifetime of the project, it is estimated that data and images on 80,000 objects will be collected, prioritising objects seen in sales and private collections from 1970 up to the present day.

The British Museum will also provide paid traineeships to staff from the partner organisations in Egypt and Sudan, and provide them with equipment and software to enable their own monitoring of circulating antiquities and illicit trade. In the future, it is envisaged that colleagues, museums, police and conscientious dealers/collectors around the world will increasingly supply data to the database, which will continue to be coordinated by the British Museum.

About the British Museum

The British Museum was founded in 1753, and attracts over 6 million visitors per year to displays and exhibitions relating to the cultures of the world, from prehistory to the present day. To enhance understanding of and access to the collection, the Museum undertakes a wide-ranging programme of research, public programming and engagement with specialists and audiences in source countries, and it has foregrounded open digital access to its collection. The last decade has seen a particular focus on training museum curators, archaeologists and cultural heritage specialists in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

Project Partners

The Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt

The National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM)

The Art & Antiques Unit of the Metropolitan Police Service (New Scotland Yard)