Surprising Results of The British Museum’s Internal Investigation

Surprising Results of The British Museum's Internal Investigation Show That Around 1,500 Artifacts Were Looted.

Aug 22, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
The British Museum, Surprising Results
Climate change activists protest at The British Museum. Photo: Diana More, courtesy of BP or not BP?


Surprising results of the British Museum‘s inside evaluation show the institution is missing around 1,500 ancient artifacts. The Telegraph media were the first one to report the story. Although there is a report bout the disappearance of works of art, there is not a clear indication which works of art are missing. The names, photos and value of the remains unknown to the public.


Surprising Results on Looted Precious Stones and Artifacts

gold-coin-80-bce-culla, Surprising Results
Roman gold coin depicting the dictator Sulla, 80 BCE, via British Museum


The number of artifacts on which the investigation focuses is close to two thousand. The British Museum gave a description on some items: “gold jewellery and gems of semi-precious stones and glass dating from the 15th century BC to the 19th century”. This cultural institution did not digitally recordsome artworks and there is no online archive. This is why it will take a much longer time to track them.


The purpose of the artifacts was to serve science and research. Also, they were not publicly exhibited for a long time, as the museum says. The British Museum director Hartwig Fischer publicly spoke about resigning from his directorial position next year, but because of this incident it may happen much sooner. Just a few days ago, the institution released a media statement on lost, broken and stolen possessions.


Drop BP
Activists stand around a banner that says “Drop BP” in the style of the BP logo at the British Museum on April 23, 2022. The British Museum.PHOTO BY HOLLIE ADAMS/GETTY IMAGES


Overall, this occurred just a few weeks after Fisher announced his resignation. Museum’s deputy director Jonathan Williams “personally warned about the thefts in February 202”, but his position “is now untenable”. Roman art expert Reverend Martin Henig said: his is the worst case that I’ve come across like this because it involves not just selling the odd object, but also destruction. This is totally unforgivable”.

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Looted Items Sold on E-Bay?

The British Museum, Surprising Results
The British Museum.


The museum fired an employee for this mistake, but did not provide information about the person involved in the artifacts’ missing. But, the Daily Telegraph and the Times of London found out the employee’s identity. It was the Greek antiquities curator Peter Higgs. The museum suspects he sold the unmarked items the e-commerce website eBay.


There is one artifact worth around $64,000, but there is an offer on only $51 dollar on an online auction. As early as 2016, postings for artifacts from the museum’s collection surfaced online. Although no one was arrested, the British Museum will take legal action against the former employee. Also, the Metropolitan Police’s Economic Crime Command is working on finding additional information.


caligula army coin
Copper alloy coin of emperor Caligula with reverse depiction of the emperor addressing the soldiers, 40-41 CE, via the British Museum


The museum will also conduct an internal investigation of the security protocol. A spokesperson for the British Museum said: “We cannot and won’t comment on the thefts while a police investigation is ongoing.”

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.