Charity Session – Trails, tribulations and sacrifices of future-proofing Syria’s history
Phil Cleary, Smartwater Foundation

The work of the Smart Water Foundation is dangerous, forward thinking, fast acting and absolutely essential to protecting our cultural heritage. Smart Water Technology can give artworks, antiques and any collection items their own unique data code, which makes them traceable in the event of crime. Following application of a B72 base coat, Smart Water Solution holding encrypted data, is applied directly to the collection item and sealed with a top coat. This is invisible to the naked eye, but glows under a UV light and when tested and matched to the entry in the Smart Water database, will link the object back to its owner. The process and application of the solution is completely reversible by specialists, in-line with modern conservation requirements. It is a technology being used increasingly in public and private collections across the globe to give additional protection from theft, or increased chances of having your stolen objects returned in the event of theft.

Where this technology is being used most effectively is through the company’s charitable arm, the Smart Water Foundation. At present, the Foundation is working with archaeologists in Syria to protect its cultural heritage from the ISIS threat of theft and black-market trade. The illicit trade of stolen artefacts, including mosaic panels, sculpture, statues and church interiors, is ISIS’ second largest source of income and so putting a halt to this destruction of culture goes deeper than preservation.

Phil told us about the covert missions of archaeologists across ISIS territorial borders in the dead of night to apply Smart Water solution to precious heritage sites and artefacts. They must break down all of the chemical components, carry them individually and travel in groups with the tools spread between them because if they were captured by ISIS and found to have this equipment with them, there is little doubt they would be executed. Slowly, the teams are making their way across the country invisibly marking precious heritage with its own DNA. The hope is that should anything end up with a dealer or museum, Smart Water can determine where it came from and one day it can be returned.

An archaeologist working covertly to apply Smart Water solution to a Roman Mosaic in Syria

Sarah Hardy, Loans Coordinator, The British Library