On Thursday, 9th of December 2021, The Cyprus Institute (CyI) renewed its Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Cyprus Police and the Department of Antiquities (DoA), agreeing to reinforce their collaboration on issues of common interest, related to the use of digital technologies (aerial and terrestrial) for the protection of archaeological monuments and sites affected by looters.
With the renewal of the MoU, The Cyprus Institute, the Department of Antiquities and the Police Office for Combating Illegal Possession and Trafficking of Antiquities, agree to continue to pursue collaborative activities that serve and support the protection and well-being of the rich archaeological heritage of Cyprus. This collaboration aims to fight illegal looting of archaeological sites and monuments, the effective use of technology in monitoring endangered sites, mapping looted monuments and documenting, characterizing and visualizing Cyprus’s heritage at risk due to natural and man-made disasters and threats.
The MoU signing ceremony took place at The Cyprus Institute’s facilities in Athalassa. Signing the MoU on behalf of the Cyprus Police, was its Chief, Mr Stylianos Papatheodorou, on behalf of the Department of Antiquities, the Permanent Secretary of the Minister of Transport, Communications and Works, Mr Stavros Michael and the Dept. of Antiquities Director, Dr Marina Solomidou-Ieronymidou, and on behalf of The Cyprus Institute, its President Prof. Costas N. Papanicolas. Present at the meeting were also the Head of the Office for Combating Illegal Possession and Trafficking of Antiquities (Cyprus Police), Mr Michalis Gavrielides, CyI’s Member of the Board of Trustees, Dr Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, the President of the Association “Friends of The Cyprus Institute”, Dr Petros Kareklas, and senior academic and administrative staff of the Institute.
The Chief of Cyprus Police mentioned that the Cyprus Police is very sensitive on the issue of the illicit trafficking, and is working with all available means, within the framework of the existing relevant legislation to restore and prevent Cyprus cultural heritage from looting and destruction. He also said that the Cyprus Police undertakes numerous and significant measures on a local and international level, and has successfully achieved the repatriation of stolen cultural objects of Cypriot origin to their lawful owners. “Today we sign this important Memorandum of Understanding which will give us the essential tools to accomplish our goals in this area. It is necessary to safeguard every nations’ cultural heritage because we have the duty to preserve history and culture for the benefit of future generations”, he added.
In his address, the General Secretary of the Minister of Transport stated that the looting of our archaeological heritage and its promotion in the global art market exceeds the limits of responsibility, and remains an important issue for all of us, as this heritage defines our identity. The Ministry of Transport will continue to strongly support with great enthusiasm this initiative and the collaboration between CyI, the Cyprus Police and the DoA, as it plays an important role in the preservation of the Cyprus cultural heritage, he concluded.
Speaking at the ceremony, the Director of the Department of Antiquities stated that “it is with great pleasure that we proceed with the renewal of the MoU, to take measures to combat the looting of antiquities, and for the monitoring and conservation of our archaeological sites and ancient monuments, together with two of our most important partners: the Cyprus Police and The Cyprus Institute. This renewal of agreement demonstrates our commitment for further cooperation between these three institutions in the fight against the looting and illicit trafficking”.
Finally, Prof. Papanicolas noted that The Cyprus Institute is particularly honoured to participate in this trilateral collaboration in the fight against looting and illicit trafficking of antiquities. He additionally, thank the Cyprus Police and the DoA for the cooperation, as he highlighted that “we did so many in the past, and we expect to do a lot more in the future”.
On the same day, CyI hosted a roundtable working meeting on the broader topic of “Looting and Illicit Trafficking of Antiquities”, with the participation of Police representatives from various countries. This workshop was organized by the Cyprus National Committee for Combating Looting and Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Heritage, in collaboration with the Cyprus Department of Antiquities, the Cyprus Police, The Cyprus Institute, the Italian Embassy in Nicosia and the University G. d’ Annunzio of Chieti-Pescara with support from the European Project EuroTeCH.
The workshop focused on key issues of protocols and best practices against the devastating practices of looting and illicit trade as well as circulation of antiquities, and other cultural heritage assets. Moreover, participants had the opportunity to address an array of challenges, such as the growing use of advanced technology and the web by looters and traffickers, the impact of economic, conflict and climate related migration, the role of organized crime which responds to the ever-growing market for illegal antiquities, the related legal complexities, and the necessity for better coordination and appropriate sharing of data. Furthermore, the meeting explored possible venues for collaboration and synergies within the European Union, but also at the regional and international levels, against the rapidly emerging threats of looting and trafficking of our precious cultural heritage.
Additionally, CyI researchers who participated in the workshop had the chance to highlight the collaborative work that was done so far between CyI, the Cyprus Police and the Department of Antiquities. CyI researchers were also able to showcase the tailor-made quadcopter, which was made by CyI’s Unmanned Systems Research Laboratory (USRL) of the Climate and Atmosphere Research Center (CARE-C) for use by the Office for Combating Illegal Possession and Trafficking of Antiquities of the Cyprus Police. The workshop also offered the opportunity to highlight CyI’s work and related activities at the Andreas Pittas Art Characterization Laboratories (APAC) of the Science and Technology in Archaeology and Culture Research Centre (STARC), as well as showcase the great potential and possible contributions of USRL/CARE-C to the existing collaboration.