US-UK joint operation protects Syrian heritage site

Telford, Shropshire (UK)

In Syria, one of the Roman mosaics protected by Smartwater

In a joint US-UK initiative financed by the Smartwater Foundation, a not-for-profit arm of the international crime-fighting company, Smartwater, a team of undercover operatives and trained Syrian Archaeologists have successfully applied Smartwater’s unique ‘traceable liquid’ to some of Syria’s most treasured historical artefacts, including two precious mosaics from the UNESCO World Heritage designated site of the Dead Cities. All are threatened with theft by terrorists and criminal gangs.

This new forensic process significantly reduces the appetite for such artefacts, as it enables law enforcement agencies to identify them as stolen, allowing unscrupulous buyers and sellers to be arrested and prosecuted when found in possession.

Smartwater uses an extremely robust form of ‘nanotechnology’ to encrypt data, with water being the application medium. With millions, and potentially billions, of datasets available, the applications are only limited by the imagination of the end user.

Although the looting of historic artefacts is a worldwide problem, the Smartwater Foundation decided to offer immediate support to archaeologists in Syria, due to the urgency of the situation. Each treated artefact now has microscopic encrypted data and scientists only need a speck to be able to decode and provide law enforcement agencies and the courts with absolute proof of where it came from and when it was applied. Smartwater laboratories are accredited to the highest international standards recognised by criminal justice systems throughout the World, together with organisations such as the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors.

The theft and sale of stolen artefacts from Syria and Iraq is reported to provide millions of pounds a year towards the financing of terrorism. Determining the origin of stolen artefacts on the international market is extremely difficult. It is believed that artefacts are sold at auction and subsequently passed through a network of antique shops and local markets, utilising forged documents, before reaching an international chain of collectors.

Prof Amr Al-Azm, who oversaw this ground-breaking initiative, is a renowned archaeologist and an executive of ‘The Day After Project’, which operates a Syrian-based heritage protection initiative, said “Syria’s cultural heritage is a vital part of our identity; it is what makes a Syrian a Syrian. Yet this heritage is under daily assault from looting and destruction by thieves and terrorists. Smartwater forensics is safeguarding Syria’s future by helping us prove the origin of these stolen and trafficked objects which is a major milestone in our efforts to preserve Syria’s history.”

The operation signifies the first time antiquities have been marked with a unique, clear ‘traceable liquid’ that allows international authorities to trace the item back to their original location. This ground-breaking initiative was made possible after extensive testing of Smartwater’s newly developed water-based solution by Reading University’s Dept. of Archaeology in the UK and Shawnee State University in the United States.

As a result, Smartwater has released their special ‘heritage’ solutions for use on a limited number of substrates, including stone, ivory, ceramic tile, glass and pottery, providing further opportunities to protect global heritage sites at risk from would be looters, most notably terrorists and criminal gangs.

Phil Cleary, Co-Founder and Director of the Smartwater Foundation said: ”Although we are a small Foundation, with limited resources, we happen to have a team of brilliant scientists who were able to rise to the challenge of creating new forensic technology robust enough to withstand harsh environments without damaging the artefact itself. We are pleased to be able to help in this case however the theft of historic artefacts is sadly not limited to the Middle East; it is a worldwide problem and increasingly promoted by organised crime gangs. Smartwater creates a Sword of Damocles for First World Buyers of stolen artefacts that was not there before. This first initiative of many puts them on notice”.


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