Scientists Are Training Dogs To Sniff Out Trafficked Artifacts

January 23, 2018 | Matt


In an interesting new step in law enforcement’s effort to combat artifact trafficking, a group of scientists is attempting to train dogs for use in law enforcement, to sniff out pilfered artifacts much in the same way police dogs sniff out illegal drugs. They hope that the new dog training will help put a dent in the artifact black market that’s sucking important pieces of history out of the Middle East.

Dogs have been successfully trained to sniff out drugs, bombs an even ivory. The scientists are hopeful that the same will eventually be said of historical artifacts. There has been a massive influx of stolen artifacts into the black market, taken from Syria and Iraq in the midst of war.

According to Mihael Danti of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, “Terrorists, organized crime and common criminals are desetroying archaeological sites on an industrial scale to cash in on illegal profits… that is why we need to find out if we can train dogs to help.”

The project is called the K-9 Artifact Finders research program. It comes at a good time, when law enforcement’s detection capabilities are being outstripped by traffickers. A retired DHS customs officer named Domenic DiGiovanni said in a statement, “Smugglers import stolen heritage into the U.S. by hiding them in packages and crates. Using canines to sniff out illegally dug-up artifacts would help customs officers quickly identify smuggling suspects, who usually falsify import forms when they traffic artifacts, which is a felony.”

The program is being conducted by the University of Pennsylvania Museum, the Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research.

The procedure will be much like how dogs are trained to find bombs and drugs. They will be given pieces of ancient Syrian pottery to smell. Hopefully, the dogs will be able to identify and respond to any associated smells and will be rewarded with food when they do. The program is focusing on German shepherds and Labradors.

Interestingly, it is yet unknown whether Iraqi pottery smells different to dogs than Syrian pottery. The scientists are hoping to train the dogs to detect both.

Assuming the dogs are trained to a satisfactory level of performance in lab conditions, the team will then solicit funding to do tests in the field. If those are successful, they will shop the dogs around to customs officials in the United States and abroad to hopefully involve them in customs screening.

Share This Story On Facebook