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The British Museum is asking the public for help to recover several stolen artifacts on a webpage launched on Tuesday. The museum dismissed an unnamed employee over the summer for allegedly stealing artifacts and reported in an Aug. 16 press release that an investigation by the Metropolitan Police Service is underway.
Recovery specialists advised the British Museum to withhold the full details about the stolen and damaged items, it said on its website, but added: “The vast majority of the items are from the Department of Greece and Rome and mainly fall into two categories: gems and jewelry.” Some of the missing items include gold rings and earrings dating back to the Late Bronze Age (roughly between the 15th to the 11th Century BC) and from the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Missing items also include classical Greek and Roman Gems and a Roman gold bracelet from the 2nd to 3rd Century AD. It’s unclear if any of the British Museum’s stolen items are actually British in origin.
“The British Museum’s approach has carefully balanced the need to provide information to the public to assist the recovery efforts with the fact that providing too much detail risks playing into the hands of those who might act in bad faith,” Art Loss Register’s Director of Recoveries James Ratcliffe in the museum’s announcement.
The museum confirmed in a press release on Tuesday that it has recovered 60 stolen items and identified an additional 300 that are due to be returned. The recovery webpage says the British Museum has registered all missing items with the Art Loss Register and has “established an international panel of specialists, including leading figures in the study of gems and jewelry, who will offer their expertise to assist us in identifying and retrieving the lost items.” It added that the museum is also “actively monitoring the art market” to recover the lost items.
The webpage asks that anyone who has any information that could aid the museum in finding the items send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although the museum has not provided the exact number of missing items, the board chairman, George Osborne told the BBC last month that the number amounts to roughly 2,000. “We believe we have been the victim of thefts over a long period of time and frankly more could have been done to prevent them,” Osborne told the outlet.
He confirmed that “more could have been done” to prevent the threats, saying theft concerns were first raised in February of 2021 and the museum needs to improve its security levels. “It has certainly been damaging to the British Museum’s reputation, that is a statement of the obvious, and that is why I’m apologizing on its behalf,” Osborne said.
Hartwig Fischer, the British Museum’s director, said in the initial press release that security at the museum was immediately tightened and labeled the theft as a “highly unusual incident.” Fischer, who worked for the museum for eight years, stepped down as the director on Aug. 25, months before he was scheduled to leave his role in 2024.
Ittai Gradel, a Dutch antiquities dealer, told The Guardian he had bought many of the artifacts online and claimed he warned the British Museum of the thefts two years ago. Gadel called on the museum to fire Fischer and his deputy Jonathan Williams who he claims didn’t take his warning seriously.
According to correspondence seen by the BBC, Williams told Gradel in an email, that there was “no suggestion of any wrongdoing” and the “collection was protected.” Gradel has accused the museum of “sweeping it all under the carpet.”
In light of the museum’s acknowledgment of the stolen artifacts, Osborne said in the press release: “Our priority is now threefold: first, to recover the stolen items; second, to find out what, if anything, could have been done to stop this; and third, to do whatever it takes, with investment in security and collection records, to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
He added: “This incident only reinforces the case for the reimagination of the Museum we have embarked upon. It’s a sad day for all who love our British Museum, but we’re determined to right the wrongs and use the experience to build a stronger Museum.”