British Museum announces operation to recover missing objects - Museums Association

British Museum announces operation to recover missing objects

Institution confirms that it has already retrieved 60 items and identified a further 300
British Museum Crime Theft
A Greek gold chain resembling some of the objects believed to have been stolen from the British Museum
A Greek gold chain resembling some of the objects believed to have been stolen from the British Museum © Trustees of the British Museum

The British Museum has released new details of its operation to retrieve around 1,600 objects believed to have been stolen from its collections, with a webpage and public hotline launched to assist in the recovery.

It follows the museum's announcement in August that approximately 2,000 items had been found to be missing, stolen or damaged following an internal investigation.

The museum confirmed this week that 60 of these have already been retrieved, with a further 300 identified and due to be returned imminently.

The museum is working with recovery specialists to track down the remaining objects. It has launched a new webpage featuring details of the type of items alleged to have been stolen, which primarily consist of gems and jewellery from the Department of Greece and Rome.

The page shows pictures of items that are similar to those missing but still in the collection.

A late Bronze Age finger ring and an orange glass Roman cameo, both resembling the type of objects believed to have been stolen from the British Museum© Trustees of the British Museum

Missing items

Classical Greek and Roman gems

Gems, cameos or intaglios are small objects, often set in rings or other settings, or left unmounted and unfinished. They may be made of semi-precious stone (for example sard, sardonyx, amethyst) or glass; they may be cast from a mould or engraved by hand.

The majority of gems are from the Hellenistic and Roman world, but some may also have been made in modern times in imitation of ancient gems. They may feature images of famous individuals from the Classical past, of mythological scenes, animals or objects. These gems are of varied quality. Some will be fragmentary and damaged.

Gold rings, ear-rings and other pieces of jewellery

These date from across antiquity, especially from the Late Bronze Age (about 15th to 11th century BC) and the Hellenistic and Roman periods.


The British Museum says it has taken a number of further actions to recover the artfeacts. This includes registering the missing items with the Art Loss Register as well as actively monitoring the art market.

An international panel of 14 specialists, including leading figures in the study of gems and jewellery, has been established to assist the museum in identifying and retrieving the lost items.

Meanwhile the museum is continuing to work in partnership with the Metropolitan Police, which is undertaking a criminal investigation into the alleged thefts.

The museum has established an email hotline for anyone with information that might aid the recovery programme. It urges anyone concerned that they may be, or have been, in possession of items from the British Museum, or with any other information that may help, to email the hotline at

Further updates on the progress of the recovery programme will be released in the coming months. 

A staff member was dismissed from the museum in August and has since been interviewed by the police.

The crisis led to the resignation of former director Hartwig Fischer, who has been replaced by interim director Mark Jones.

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