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In Lyon, Iraqi, Jordanian and Lebanese investigators trained in the fight against the trafficking of cultural property

The 3,500-year-old Gilgamesh tablet, believed to have been looted from Iraq and illegally imported into the United States, during his repatriation ceremony in Iraq.  In Washington, September 23, 2021.

Cooperate to better wait for traffickers, who break free from borders. This week, the National Police School (ENSP) welcomed police and judicial officials from Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to its premises in Saint-Cyr-au-Mont-d’Or, near Lyon . And on this occasion, she unveiled some of the new tools used to locate stolen archaeological objects. A market that has grown considerably in recent years with the looting of archaeological sites in war zones.

The research center of the school of police commissioners presented an application called Arte-Fact, which allows the recognition of an archaeological object from a simple photo taken on a smartphone. The algorithm quickly identifies the origin of the object, by comparing the image to global databases. Half funded by European programs, Arte-Fact has been offered for several weeks to customs and police services.

“Today you have to go fast, because objects circulate very quickly. They cross borders and are exchanged on the Internet. Thanks to this tool, a police officer or a customs officer posted at a border can detect traffic within the limited time of a check.”explains Corinne Chartrelle, who for fifteen years co-directed the Central Office for the Fight against Trafficking in Cultural Property (OCBC).

Another novelty launched by the ENSP research center, the University of Technology of Troyes and the CNRS: the development of an invisible ink for marking archaeological objects, using nanotechnology. Initiated since November 2021 for a period of five years, this research program aims for the large-scale traceability of antiquities, quickly and reliably. “Traffickers put screens between the origin of an object and its sale at the end of the chain. They pass through a series of airlocks to avoid identification. The traceability of objects is an important means of combating trafficking in cultural property », explains divisional commissioner Laurent Moscatello, head of partnership and international training at the ENSP.

Source of Terrorist Funding

“We have moved from an artisanal stage to an industrial stage of trafficking over the past ten years. The challenge of the fight against trafficking in archaeological objects is not so much theft from known places, such as museums, as the looting of objects from sites where they are not yet referenced. A looted object is a blank page that the trafficker fills in to hide its origin,” confides Professor Vincent Michel, director of the department of art history and archeology at the University of Poitiers.

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