In recent years, the Embassy of Italy in Canberra, through the Office of the Expert for Security of the Department of Public Security in Canberra, in collaboration with the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage and the Ministry of Culture, has deepened its relations with museums at various Australian universities with the aim of locating and potentially returning artifacts that had been illicitly excavated from Italian archaeological sites or unlawfully taken from sites and museums to be illegally traded abroad.
The Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage has provided its expertise to determine whether ornaments, artifacts, and cataloged findings in museum collections belonged to the Italian intangible heritage. To do so they used an investigative law enforcement tool, the “Leonardo” cultural database, the largest of its kind globally, containing 8 million registered artworks, of which almost 1.5 million have been stolen.
Additionally, the Carabinieri have developed the “SWOADS” application (Stolen Works of Art Detection System), a search engine that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and semantic and image comparison systems, to monitori the internet, social media, and the deep web. This represents an international excellence, offered to all countries wishing to utilize it in the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural goods.
So far, fourteen artifacts have been identified in Australia, also thanks to the collaboration of Australian authorities. Several procedures for voluntary restitution have already been initiated. This process has been presented by the Australian National University as an international best practice at the UMAC (University Museum Art Conference), organized by the University of Sydney from August 28th to September 1st. The event was attended by all museum institutions of Australian universities as well as international guests.