08/20/2020 - UK Expert News: British Museum: a Source of Expert Witnesses for UK law Enforcement - Focus.

When law enforcement authorities in the history and art market suspect that cultural antiques have been acquired illegally, experts are needed to determine the quality, origin and value of the items. the British Museum is the expert organisation they turn to in such cases.

It works very closely with all enforcement agencies and market actors, including the the National Crime Agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, UK Border Force, the Metropolitan Police Service’s Art and Antiques Unit, the Arts Council, the Art Loss Register, auction houses, dealers, and collectors.

The relevant national museum in the country where it is believed these objects have originated from, are contacted after an extensive research and if they are believed to be stolen. In some cases a scientific report is provided and images.

A prepared ‚Äúcondition report‚ÄĚ and a press release, to interested arts correspondents in the media and the concerned 'home' museum is also given.

Government bodies are too, updated. This is a protocol developed first with the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul, and since then with the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in Baghdad and the Ministry of Culture in Uzbekistan among other bodies.

Eleven years ago, in February 2009, 22 crates were returned to Kabul, which weighed over three tons and contained over 1,500 objects seized in Britain between 2003 and 2007.

The returned objects ranged from copper cosmetic flasks, mirrors and weapons looted from 4,000-year-old cemeteries in northern Afghanistan.

Further good examples of scientific work were the determination that ancient eye-liner in one 4,000-year-old containe was white lead, to identify the species of wood inside the shaft-hole of a Bronze Age weapon and confirm its 19th-20th century BC date by radiocarbon dating, and that some miniature carved wooden heads were modern and infact fakes, which were radiocarbon dated with a 91.7% probability that they date between 1988 and 1990.

This year the Antiques Unit of the Metropolitan Police Service began investigating another UK Border Force case. This time a group of nine beautiful painted clay heads and a large carved schist sculptur had been smuggled out of the country via Peshawar in Pakistan.

They were of Afghan provenance. The pieces obviously came from one or more Buddhist monasteries and mostly represent men and women who sought to achieve the enlightened status of Buddha, and who were known as bodhisattvas.

Photographs were taken of the statues and sent to Buddhist specialists who confirmed the similarity of many of the heads to pieces known from monasteries in the Hadda area of Afghanistan.

The Director of the National Museum in Kabul again agreed that they could scientifically analyses and displayed before they were returned. Unfortunately, the items were in a poor state as they had been badly packed.

It is a new and free display at the British museum designed to explain this role and close liaison with law enforcement agencies and national museums around the world, and show objects to the public prior to their return.

Once again the identification and expert reports underpins the useful work of expert witnesses in adversarial systems, world wide.