K-9 Artifact Finders

Imagine a new way to catch antiquities traffickers with the help of working dogs.

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.

See the latest pictures and videos, and read our updates here!

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.

The K-9 Artifact Finders project is now more urgent than ever to protect cultural heritage.

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.

How K-9 Artifact Finders got started.

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.

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How is the K-9 Artifact Finders program being carried out?

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.

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Support K-9 Artifact Finders and support cultural heritage protection today!

Give today and be a part of this exciting and groundbreaking cultural property protection project. Your donation is tax deductible because RED ARCH RESEARCH is recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

Our Project Experts


Ricardo "Rick" St. Hilaire, J.D., CIPM

Founder/ Past Executive Director

Founder and Executive Director of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research. Cultural Heritage Lawyer blogger.

Michael's Headshot

Dr. Michael Danti

Principal Consultant

Principal Investigator and Academic Director of ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives and a Penn Museum Consulting Scholar

DiGiovanni Domenic Portrait

Domenic DiGiovanni

Vice President

US Customs and Border Protection Officer (Ret.) and antiquities specialist, featured in the documentary The Real-Life Indiana Jones. Read his insights about K-9AF from January 28, 2018 here.

Peter Herdrich portrait

Peter Herdrich


Chief Executive Officer at Cultural Capital Group, LLC

Dr. Ferland Headshot

Dr. David "Lou" Ferland


Executive Director of The United States Police Canine Association and retired police chief

Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Dr. Cynthia M. Otto

Dr. Cynthia M. Otto

Principal Investigator

Executive Director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Dr. Jennifer Essler with a dog

Dr. Jennifer Essler, Postdoctoral Fellow


Annemarie DeAngelo

Training Director

Patricia Kaynaroglu with two dogs

Patricia Kaynaroglu

Training Manager

Penn Museum

Dr. Richard Zettler

Associate Curator-In-Charge

Near East Section, Penn Museum

Katherine Blanchard

Katherine Blanchard

Keeper of Collection


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