Finding Looted Syrian Artifacts in Air and Sea Cargo – New Frontier of K9 Scent Detection Research

In the race to save Syria’s archaeological treasures, researchers at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center (PVWDC) are looking into the efficacy of detection dogs trained to find smuggled ancient pottery. This video features a candidate named Moxie, demonstrating a change of behavior on the target odor of pottery, during imprinting using a daisy wheel1.

At PVWDC, puppies first learn general detection skills, in exchange for their preferred play or food rewards. Next, trainers identify the strengths of each puppy (both in terms of behavior and physicality) and begin training candidates for specialized work such as explosives, drugs, or more recently, ancient pottery.

According to Mother Nature Network2, the “K-9 Artifact Finders” program is partially supported by Red Arch, a not for profit targeting the recovery of antiquities looted from archeological sites and trafficked by being hidden in crates and packages. Dogs are potentially far more efficient than humans relying on manual inspection of the contents of huge numbers of containers through customs. If the research is successful, detection dogs may soon assist customs agents at airports and sea ports in finding stolen artifacts from Syria and Iraq. It is hoped that historically significant artifacts will be more likely to be recovered and preserved as a result.


  1. Video: Moxie – Red Arch ANtiquities Study, Penn Vet Working Dog Center. Downloaded from
  2. Mary Jo Dilonardo, “This nose aims to find smuggled artifacts:. Downloaded from


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