The Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the Penn Museum, both part of the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, have partnered with RED ARCH RESEARCH to explore an innovative way to train dogs to find smuggled cultural artifacts hidden in crates and packages. It’s called the K-9 Artifact Finders program.
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RED ARCH RESEARCH needs your financial support to get this important cultural heritage protection research done!
Finding target scents linked to illegally looted artifacts could equip customs officers with the advanced tool they need to nab heritage traffickers and their smuggled cultural property packages at airports, cargo facilities, and other ports of entry. In this way, humanity’s rich culture and history can be recovered and preserved.
Penn Vet is the right institution to undertake this critical cultural property research. It is a national research and development center for detection dogs.
Along with many others in government, the nonprofit sector, and academia, the U.N. Security Council has found that terrorist groups are generating income from “the looting and smuggling of cultural property from archaeological sites, museums, libraries, archives, and other sites,” and that these crimes against culture are “being used to support their recruitment efforts and to strengthen their operational capability to organize and carry out terrorist attacks ….” (Resolution 2347, March 2017)
The K-9 Artifact Finders project can help tackle this top-priority concern to safeguard cultural heritage.
K-9 Artifact Finders grew out of RED ARCH’s research into U.S. imports of cultural objects from the Middle East and North Africa, published on the Cultural Heritage Lawyer blog and presented at the Culture Under Threat conference in Cairo, Egypt in 2015.
The research provoked troubling questions like:
Why, in a time of civil war, did the declared value of U.S. imports of “antiques” from Syria climb 133% between 2012 and 2013?
Why did the declared value of U.S. imports of “antiques” from Iraq skyrocket 1302% between 2009 and 2013, from $322,564 to $4,523,126, during a period of unrest?
Were these imports looted and smuggled archaeological artifacts?
RED ARCH RESEARCH wanted answers, but it was clear that better tools were needed to detect shipments of illegal artifacts at the American border.
The kind of canine training we are undertaking is unprecedented. To prevent any cross-contamination of odors, the primary study will focus on the Fertile Crescent region in modern-day Iraq and Syria. This area is historically rich, making it a prime target for cultural heritage looters.
For Phase I of the project, we are relying on four dogs from the Penn Vet Working Dog Center’s training program. The dogs have the mental and physical capacity to perform the precise detection work needed, and they are being treated humanely and with care.
We are conducting initial scent imprinting of up to three types of freshly excavated archaeological artifacts—lawfully excavated, properly documented, and legally imported with the help of archaeologists, including those from the Penn Museum. Once imprinted, we will teach odor discrimination. The dogs will be tested in a double-blind manner, meaning that the researcher, data collector, and trainer will not know the treatment of each specific sample presented to the dog.
If successful, and if additional funding can be secured, RED ARCH RESEARCH would like to pursue Phase II, which is on-the-ground testing. And if that proves successful, we would like to move to Phase III, creating a demonstration program for customs officers so that they can adopt and deploy this new tool to protect cultural property.
Executive Director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Near East Section, Penn Museum