The Cultural Heritage At Risk Database (CHARD)
Since 1990, the Art Loss Register (ALR) has maintained the world’s largest private international database of stolen, missing and looted art, antiquities, and antiques, now consisting of over 700,000 items.
As part of its services, the ALR has always registered cultural property on its database which has been reported stolen or missing, and liaised with law enforcement, ministries, museums, archaeologists and concerned members of the public across the world to identify, recover and repatriate these important objects. We never charge law enforcement agencies for the assistance that we offer them, nor do we charge nation states for the assistance we offer them in the recovery of their cultural property. This work is carried out on a pro bono basis.
In addition to the above, and in recognition of the need to take proactive steps to address the illicit trafficking of cultural property the ALR has also been running the Cultural Heritage At Risk Database (CHARD) to proactively register objects in situ at museums, warehouses and archaeological sites, to ensure that if such items are stolen they can be identified if offered for sale.
A particular focus for the project has been museums, sites and depositories in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and India – to name a few – but there is no restriction on where such objects can be located, provided that they are at risk. The registration of stolen, missing or at risk objects on the ALR database offers the best possible chance of identifying them being offered on the international antiquities market, as well as a practical deterrent to thieves and looters which can further ensure the safety of these collections for future generations.
Through CHARD, the ALR works with regional, national and international initiatives to register unique objects on the database once they have been inventoried. The ALR is always keen to work with new partners. These registrations are carried out on a pro bono basis and are thus free of charge to whoever provides the necessary data. In addition, they will be kept confidential and secure on the ALR’s database so that only the ALR can access them. No dealer or auction house has direct access to the database.
This service is offered to complement the hard work of the museum professionals and archaeologists who painstakingly record these objects in the first place, as well as those who risk their lives every day to protect them. Through the growth of CHARD, the ALR hopes to assist in the protection of these objects in perpetuity by informing relevant governments, ministries, museums or archaeologists – as well as any appropriate law enforcement agencies – should those objects appear on the market.
If you are aware of any at risk items that would match the criteria for registration then please contact us at [email protected]. For items to be capable of registration they will need to be uniquely identifiable if they appear on the market. That usually means that a photograph is required, but a drawing may also suffice for archaeological material.
For further information about the Cultural Heritage At Risk Database (CHARD), please contact Will Korner directly at [email protected].
How CHARD works – two case studies
Case Study: Kushan sculpture to be repatriated to Afghanistan
As part of its project to proactively register cultural property within national collections, the ALR identified the Francine Tissot’s Catalogue of the National Museum of Afghanistan, 1931-1985, which was published by UNESCO. The objects in this catalogue were proactively registered on the database in case any of them appeared on the market. In November 2019, the ALR identified a sculpture that was on sale at TimeLine Auctions in the UK as one that appeared in Tissot’s catalogue. The ALR informed the Metropolitan Police Art & Antiques Unit, and worked with the British Museum and the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul to recover and repatriate the sculpture. Read more here.
Case Study: Antiquities looted during Lebanese Civil War returned
The global nature of the antiquities market raises significant challenges for the identification and recovery of stolen and looted cultural property, how can the victims of looting monitor a global market such as this? However, the ALR’s due diligence service makes it possible to locate missing archaeological objects that are offered on the market, whether publicly or privately, since the ALR reviews over 400,000 items every year against its database. In this particular case, the ALR’s work was based firstly upon the hard work and record keeping of French archaeologists in Lebanon in the 1960s, but even more so upon the work of Professor Rolf Stucky, a Swiss archaeologist. In 1993, Professor Stucky sourced excavation and museum records to publish an inventory of hundreds of objects found at the site of the Temple of Eschmun in Sidon (a site in Lebanon), but which had subsequently been looted in 1981 during the civil war. These objects were subsequently registered on the ALR database, which led to the location and recovery of a sculpture in Switzerland in 2006, and of two further pieces in 2017 that were amongst the five sculptures repatriated to Lebanon in February 2018. Read more here.