Detection dogs sniff out stolen artifacts

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Detection dogs sniff out stolen artifacts
McBaine is one of four dogs being trained using a scent wheel to detect archaeological artifacts.

Detection dogs have been used to detect illegal drugs and explosives, missing persons, and even disease. Now, they’re being trained to identify valuable artifacts being smuggled and sold on the black market.

Among the many items targeted by smugglers, archaeological artifacts may not be the first that come to mind. But it’s a real problem that has become increasingly difficult to stop, particularly in the Middle East. Smugglers collect artifacts and transport them on their persons to countries such as the US, Germany and Japan, where the items are sold on the black market for high profits.

Penn Vet Working Dog Center (WDC) and the Penn Museum recently launched a study to determine whether four detection dogs – three Labradors and a German shepherd – can be successfully trained to sniff out smuggled archaeological artifacts. The hope is that these canines can assist law enforcement in identifying stolen antiquities.

Using material to absorb the scent of artifacts from the Penn Museum, trainers will teach the dogs to identify objects from different locations, such as Iraq and Syria. According to Cynthia Otto, director of the WDC, the study will take place over the course of this year. Though they’re still in early stages of the research, Cynthia and her team are optimistic that detection dogs, with their powerful olfactory senses, may be the key to minimizing the illegal trafficking of archaeological artifacts.