In the fight towards antiquities trafficking, Germany develops app to identify looted cultural heritage

The application scans photos and appears to be for related artefacts and archaelogical information and…


The application scans photos and appears to be for related artefacts and archaelogical information and facts in advance of analysing law enforcement databases
© Fraunhofer Institute Graphic: Katherine Hardy

A single of the biggest challenges for police and customs officers in combating the unlawful trade in looted antiquities is in figuring out stolen objects. Though medications or weapons are easily identifiable as illegal imports, stolen antiquities can be passed off as modern-day copies or reputable imports if they are accompanied by convincing documentation. Without the need of qualified archaeologists on the spot, it is hard for legislation enforcers to know the change.

German information engineering gurus are creating an app to assistance them, and a prototype could be ready for functional trials by the middle of the year, says Martin Steinebach, the head of media security and IT forensics at the Fraunhofer Institute in Darmstadt. The new application, acknowledged as KIKU, makes use of machine learning—a subset of artificial intelligence (AI)—to recognize an object from pics and to support to determine regardless of whether it may well have been illegally looted or excavated from an archaeological web page.

The technological innovation is similar to other graphic-recognition software program these kinds of as Google Cloud’s Vision and can be operated on a smartphone, Steinebach claims. Law enforcement or customs officers consider pictures of a suspect item from a variety of angles, guided by the app to ensure satisfactory lights and the appropriate views.

The photographs are then sent to KIKU’s deep-studying network, which lookups for very similar artefacts and applicable data from archaeologists—such as spot of origin and date. This offers an original basis for regulation enforcers to judge irrespective of whether the product may well be looted. In a second stage, the app compares the item with law enforcement databases of stolen cultural property Interpol’s, for instance, includes much more than 51,000 stolen objects from 134 countries. If there is a match, the app appears an alarm.

Described by German Lifestyle Minister Monika Grütters as an “innovative, sustainable and practical contribution” to the fight in opposition to the illegal trade in cultural heritage, KIKU has gained funding of up to €500,000 from a authorities programme to promote AI technological know-how in a undertaking functioning till the close of this year. The Fraunhofer Institute, a single of the most important scientific research organisations in the environment, is acquiring KIKU in co-operation with CoSee, a Darmstadt-based program corporation.

“Successful technological resources could “significantly reduce the stress on customs authorities, specialists and investigatory companies.”

In 2018, Interpol registered far more than 91,000 stolen merchandise of cultural heritage and practically 223,000 items seized by regulation enforcement agencies around the world. The starting up issue for KIKU was a German government-funded investigation undertaking, ILLICID, which examined the trade in historic cultural objects in Germany. Amid the conclusions was that investigating organizations and supervisory authorities absence the experience to address the illicit trafficking in ancient artefacts.

“It is not now probable to efficiently check the trade or to properly implement existing and/or new due diligence necessities governing the handling of ancient cultural objects,” the report suggests. Helpful technological applications could “significantly reduce the stress on customs authorities, industry experts and investigatory agencies”.

KIKU utilizes the data and pictures provided by archaeologists at the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation for all-around 2,500 antiquities in the Berlin collections. But that is a fairly compact pool of images and it needs numerous additional, says Steinebach: “At least 10 periods that” is essential. “The app can discover distinctive scripts or designs. If we have plenty of examples, the application can recognise them. The much more pictures there are, the much better it works.” In addition, the workforce is working with “transfer learning” from current networks and including artefacts from on-line museum databases and catalogues.

As an illustration of how the app could perform, Steinebach claims that if an item is imported with forged provenance files, it may well be achievable to demonstrate they are faux if KIKU enables customs officials to discover the item properly. “Say the documents claim it is from the 16th century but the application identifies it as dating from 600BC—that gives customs officers a pretty superior starting point,” he suggests. The application is not developed to detect forgeries, he adds.

Just one essential challenge is the lack of existing information for not too long ago excavated antiquities. Nevertheless, as long as an item bears a resemblance to other recognized merchandise of the similar epoch, the application need to be capable to identify its spot of origin and age, Steinebach claims. “But you hardly ever know what might have been excavated it could be anything the like of which has never ever been noticed just before.”

Steinebach doesn’t count on that the application will eradicate the need for archaeology experts in figuring out objects any time before long fairly, it will provide as an first reference for regulation enforcers, who would then need to have to get hold of an expert on the basis of KIKU’s results for a in-depth evaluation. But he adds that the extra KIKU is used, the far better it will become at identifying objects, many thanks to the device-discovering technologies.