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News: Antiquities Trafficking
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An Assyrian sculpture is recreated after the plundering by IS fighters of the city of Nineveh. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images/BBC.
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by Archaeology Newsroom

Invisible liquid will hopefully deter antiquities smugglers

The material is not harmful to ancient items

An invisible traceable solution is applied on Syrian artefacts, aiming to save the country’s heritage from plundering.

In the past years stolen items from Syria and Iraq have been smuggled out of the countries and sold to private collectors in Europe and the US. According to Unesco the illicit trade is worth millions of dollars.

The answer to how this process can be combated might lie in a clear traceable liquid, applied on Syria’s valuable artefacts by archaeologists. The solution, which is invisible to the naked eye but detectable under ultra-violet light, was developed by Smartwater, a British crime prevention firm. Tests were carried out by scientists at Reading University in the UK and Shawnee State University in the US. The material is designed not to harm ceramics and other ancient materials. Each artefact bears a unique, identifiable code, aiming to deter smugglers as well as collectors with the threat of prosecution.

Syrian archaeologists are already applying the solution on valuable artefacts, such as Roman mosaics, Byzantine pottery and ancient sculptures, in areas outside Syrian government control. Professor Amr Al-Azm, leading the project, said that the material arrived in Syria through Turkey in February.

Specialists hope that once it becomes known among smugglers and collectors the solution will deter more illicit antiquities trafficking.

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