Stolen relief from a London collection, identified by the British Museum in 2014 as coming from a building of Thutmose IV in Karnak, now repatriated to Egypt. © Marcel Marée

Circulating Artefacts (CircArt): a global platform against the looting and trafficking of pharaonic antiquities

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Register with Circulating Artefacts:

  • Report antiquities or an antiquities-related event
  • Request a database search or obtain an assessment of authenticity or provenance

Our mission

The Circulating Artefacts (CircArt) project is a groundbreaking initiative against the widespread global trade in illicit antiquities. Launched in March 2018, CircArt's online platform currently focuses on antiquities from Egypt and Sudan. It's designed as a tool for all, irrespective of background or profession, who want to help counteract the looting and trafficking of cultural artefacts. CircArt is funded by the British Council's Cultural Protection Fund, in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Growing levels of looting are affecting archaeological sites, magazines and museums around the world, and as a result much illicit cultural property enters the international art market. The provenance and context of these objects is often lost, or hidden, greatly diminishing their value for understanding the past. CircArt seeks to gather and examine the evidence for this trade.

The CircArt platform brings together all those who want to make a positive difference, working collaboratively with government agencies, sellers, auction houses, museums, private collectors, archaeologists, heritage professionals, law enforcement agencies and any members of the public who wish to play, or do already play, a role in opposing the widespread destruction of cultural heritage. The British Museum is uniquely well placed to engage with these stakeholders, building upon its efforts to combat illicit trade of artefacts from Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen.

What CircArt does

CircArt makes it easier for all relevant actors to behave responsibly, and for others to keep an eye on how they treat the world's cultural heritage. This involves a multi-layered approach, taking account of numerous factors to the problem. The CircArt platform addresses them all:

  1. CircArt identifies possible provenance issues, with current focus on pre-Islamic antiquities from Egypt and Sudan. Academic involvement in monitoring the trade has long been missing but is vitally important. CircArt gathers and channels this expertise, providing a different perspective to the services that vetters offer at art fairs and auction houses. Subject specialists can spot possible illicit artefacts where most people, including law enforcement, may not be able to do so. CircArt offers a central point of contact for additional information and context in the vetting of cultural property, supporting the much-needed higher standards of due diligence sought by many participants in the current market.
     
  2. You can appeal not only to our knowledge but also request that we search our database for evidence of an object's history and provenance. Existing databases have typically focused on the documentation and tracing of objects that are known to have been stolen. This database will be different because it may include illicit artefacts on the market, which were never reported missing in the first place, because the majority come straight from illicit excavations.
     
  3. CircArt records – and researches – all objects to come to its attention, with each given a unique reference number. Wherever possible, we proactively gather information from publicly available sources, alongside information directly from dealers, collectors, fellow academics, the police, and the general public. We also work closely with art crime researchers examining illicit activity in social media groups. Our database is not publicly searchable, but academics and students can contact us for records on any particular types of objects, which we'll share with them minus any confidential or sensitive data.
     
  4. CircArt offers workshops, training and an e-learning course to raise awareness among local and global communities about the intrinsic value of cultural property. We seek to engage as many people as possible in a unified effort against the threats to cultural heritage.   

We review all objects for possible provenance issues – there's no value threshold. We recommend that you bring objects to our attention at the earliest opportunity, to minimise the risk of later disappointment.

For further enquiries about the project, or if you wish to support it in some way, please contact us at CircArt@britishmuseum.org.

e-Learning course

CircArt has developed an e-Learning course and associated resource repository, designed to assist in counteracting the looting and trafficking of cultural property.

If you wish to apply for registration to the e-Learning platform (restricted to heritage professionals and law enforcement agencies), please contact us at CircArt@britishmuseum.org.

Acknowledgements

CircArt is funded by the British Council's Cultural Protection Fund, in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. 

CircArt partners with the National Corporation for Antiquities & Museums in Sudan. We offer support, advice and training to the Ministry of Antiquities in Egypt. We partner closely with many law enforcement agencies, as well as the World Customs Organisation (WCO), the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA), and the Antiquities Trafficking and Heritage Anthropology Research (ATHAR) Project. We're also building new partnerships with universities across Egypt. 

CircArt: Frequently Asked Questions