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A New Solution to Protection Against Illicit Antiquities Looting and Trafficking

June 15, 2017

A New Solution to Protection Against Illicit Antiquities Looting and Trafficking

The theft and sale of stolen artifacts from Syria and Iraq is reported to provide large sums a year towards the financing of terrorism and determining the origin of stolen artifacts on the international market is extremely difficult — until now.  The SmartWater Foundation is a not-for-profit that provides cutting edge liquid forensic ‘nanotechnology’ with encrypted data that is being used by law enforcement agencies worldwide and has profound implications for the protection of the world’s cultural heritage that is currently under threat.

The SmartWater Foundation hosted a briefing on June 13 called Future-Proofing our History which showcased their work to help protect Syria’s cultural heritage. SmartWater CEO Phil Cleary and Colette Loll, Senior Advisor to SmartWater Foundation, Dr. Amr Al-Azm, founder and board member on The Day After project (TDA) and coordinator for the Heritage Protection Initiative (HPI), and Dr. Michael Danti, Academic Director of the American Schools of Oriental Research Cultural Heritage Initiatives (ASOR-CHI), provided compelling data on their work in the cultural heritage field and how using SmartWater helps protect antiquities being looted in Syria. Ms. Loll, Dr. Al-Azm, and Dr. Michael Danti are all members of the #CultureUnderThreat Task Force spearheaded by the Antiquities Coalition where experts are gathered to address the current crisis of cultural heritage looting and destruction and offer specific recommendations to address this ongoing threat.

Not to be confused with the smartwater that we drink when thirsty, SmartWater is an odorless, colorless liquid that when applied to an object—or person—is invisible to the naked eye. This traceable liquid is coded with a patented forensic technology that contains a unique set of imprints (at least a billion datasets, similar to DNA) and when brushed or sprayed on, is completely undetectable by sight or feel—except by a special green UV light. It is permanent under all conditions and can stay on skin for months and clothing for years. SmartWater was formed with the chief aim of providing free or subsidized access to cutting edge SmartWater® forensic technology to hard-pressed communities without the necessary financial resources.

Initially focused on assisting law enforcement agencies secure convictions in court, SmartWater has been proven, both operationally and academically, to be a most powerful deterrent to crime. In London communities, SmartWater has been used as a household break-in deterrent and the area has seen a 27.5% drop in burglaries versus a 5% drop elsewhere in the city. This assists police in combating burglary crimes, reducing victims, saving money, and freeing up their hours to focus more on counter terrorism efforts.  In Florida, neighborhoods and homes are saturated with SmartWater and labeled with warning signs out front (like an alarm company alerting outsiders that a home is guarded) which provides the atmosphere of psychological warfare that deters a burglary from the start. It also has been used to protect war memorials from metal theft in the U.K. and applied to ivory pieces to combat poaching in Africa.

This technology is used for more than just home break-ins and for the first time, SmartWater creates a viable and profound solution to protection against illicit antiquities looting and trafficking. When applied to archaeological sites, artifacts, and other heritage property, any object moved from its resting place and found elsewhere can be linked back to its place of origin, just by shining the green light and reading the code. Syrian antiquities have been hand-marked with SmartWater by the on-the-ground team from The Day After and if or when these items are looted, 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. Though this is new to antiquities trafficking, it comes at a critical time for the cultural heritage of Syria, Iraq, and other countries facing conflict. It provides hope for the protection of antiquities from future trade on the illicit market and not end up in global art markets where the high demand for artifacts means it may never be seen again.

The Antiquities Coalition is proud to support innovative solutions like SmartWater and looks forward to seeing how this initiative develops.