British Museum Wants Your Help Finding Stolen Artifacts

A first through third century CE Roman intaglio in a modern setting is one of the around 2,000 missing from the British Museum. (© The Trustees of the British Museum, courtesy British Museum)

This summer, the British Museum in London announced it had fired a staff member suspected of stealing collection objects, mostly Ancient Greek and Roman jewelry and gems that were housed in a storage room. The museum has been tight-lipped regarding the exact number of missing works, though board chairman George Osborne told the BBC in August that the figure is around 2,000. Today, the institution launched a webpage to aid in the recovery of the stolen artworks. A total of 60 objects have been given back so far and 300 will be returned soon, according to a September 26 press release.

The new webpage is noticeably sparse, featuring images and descriptions for only a handful of items. The lack of information is “on the advice of recovery specialists” and reportedly in an effort to dissuade the people who may be in possession of the works from destroying the stolen goods or selling them through illicit channels.

The site’s listed objects include a circa third-century CE Roman gold ring with an inscription, a gold Roman bracelet from around the same time period, and a Hellenistic intaglio oval depicting a warrior with a sword and shield.

On the site, the British Museum outlines the steps it has taken toward recovery, including actively monitoring the art market, continuing to collaborate with police, and establishing a panel of specialists to identify the stolen goods. Additionally, the museum created an email inbox — — for people who may have information about the objects’ whereabouts to submit anonymous tips. The institution says it has listed the stolen objects on the Art Loss Register, which provides sellers, buyers, and law enforcement with information on tens of thousands of missing works. Searchers must identify the specific object they are looking for and pay $95. 

“The British Museum’s approach has carefully balanced the need to provide information to the public to assist the recovery efforts with the fact that providing too much detail risks playing into the hands of those who might act in bad faith,” said Art Loss Register’s Director of Recoveries James Ratcliffe in the museum’s announcement. Ratcliffe added that the Art Loss Register has an “unrivaled ability” to help the museum in its recovery effort. 

The British Museum shared its public September 26 announcement with Hyperallergic but declined to disclose the number of missing objects or the status of the works’ recovery beyond the 360 that have been identified or returned. 

Reports in several news outlets have speculated that the heists were carried out by senior curator Peter Higgs, although the museum has not confirmed his identity and Higgs’s family denied his involvement. The museum’s director, Hartwig Fischer, stepped down on August 25, nine days after the institution publicized the thefts. In early September, the museum appointed former Victoria & Albert Museum Director Sir Mark Jones as its interim leader. 

Gold chain britishmuseum
A third century BCE gold chain from Cyprus is among the missing works. (© The Trustees of the British Museum, courtesy British Museum)

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