Invisible 'Paint' to Protect Syrian Artifacts

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March 25, 2017

In an attempt to offset what has become a burgeoning trade in looted artifacts, a group of scientists in Syria have developed a means of "painting" precious objects.

A civil war has consumed the country for several years. During that time, archaeologists have reported missing many mosaics, sculptures, and pieces of pottery, with many turning up on black markets elsewhere in the world. UNESCO, which administers World Heritage sites around the world, estimates that millions of dollars change hands for smuggled or stolen artifacts each year.

Syrian archaeologist Amr Al-Azm has led an effort that has produced a clear, traceable liquid that is invisible to the naked eye but that shows up under ultraviolet light. Each "painting" pattern is unique, so experts can identify individual stolen items at a "glance." The materials that make up the liquid do not harm ceramics or other materials of which ancient artifacts were made.

A retired U.S. police detective and his brother, a chemist, developed Smartwater developed the liquid material, called Smartwater. It has been tested in the U.K., where a borough of London and another large city, Nottingham, reported a precipitous drop in household burglary once police made it known that they were employing the liquid in households in that borough and that city.

Syrian archaeologists have administered the liquid material to many artifacts already.

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