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No longer a matter of local desperadoes trying to make a quick buck, artifact smuggling is big business now, generating an estimated four to six billion a year in blood-drenched profits for the criminal and terrorist organizations.

“[K-9 Artifact Finders is] an innovative way to disrupt the market in illicit antiquities, and that’s really what needs to happen to slow down the pace of looting and theft in conflict zones,” consulting scholar for the Penn Museum and 2000 Penn doctoral graduate Michael Danti said.

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I still have at least two more posts I want to write about the wonders I’ve seen, but not today because I’ve been up for what feels like a hundred hours straight and so am going with a new story. On Thursday evening, a section of marble flooring from a great barge built by the infamous Emperor Caligula was officially returned to Italy. The investigation revealed the true origin of the “coffee table” was one of the Ships of Nemi, built around 35 A.

D., and that it had been stolen from Italy during World War II.

Alberti built a floating platform from which he dropped ropes fixed to harpoons.

It wasn’t just a failure, it was enormously destructive.

“Currently, art crime, that means fine arts, antiques, antiquities, is usually ranked as the fourth or fifth largest grossing dollar criminal activity in the world on an annual basis.” Danti said terrorist organizations often use stolen cultural artifacts to fund their operations, deliberately destroying them and using them for propaganda and “click-bait.” He added that high-profile groups like the Islamic State have continuously done this, setting a precedent for other similar organizations to employ the same techniques.

The K-9 Artifact Finders program is still in the initial setup phase at this point.Fishermen pulled up ancient maritime artifacts from the wreck sites for centuries, and their tales of Roman treasure ships wrecked in antiquity lying on the lake bed were widely known in Italy.The first attempts to raise the barges took place in the 15th century when architect Leon Battista Alberti was commissioned by Cardinal Prospero Colonna to recover what was then believed to be a single wreck.“We will also train the dogs to ignore the odor of the plain cotton and other things that might be similar but not the actual artifact.” The second phase will be on-the-ground testing and the third a demonstration program that would give customs officers the tools to train their own K-9 units to find smuggled artifacts.Phases II and III don’t have all the funding they need yet.The Penn Museum is deploying one of nature’s highest precision weapons, the canine olfactory sense, in the fight against artifact looting.

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