Iraq Banner Desktop

Store Banner Mobile

FBI has joined the investigation of the the British Museum theft.  Source: coward_lion/Adobe Stock

FBI Joins Hunt for Missing Ancient Treasures from British Museum!

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The FBI has joined the Metropolitan Police of Britain in the investigation of the sale of hundreds of artifacts believed to have been stolen from the British Museum in an alleged “inside job.” The US crime agency is aiding the search for approximately 1,500 items reportedly stolen by a former senior curator and sold on eBay. One of the stolen artifacts, an amethyst gem depicting the Roman god Cupid, was sold on eBay by “sultan1966,” a username allegedly linked to Dr. Peter Higgs, who was dismissed from the museum last year.

‘Paul Higgins’: An Alias of Disrepute

While no arrests or charges have been made, the British Museum is pursuing a civil case against Higgs, claiming he stole items from its storerooms and sold them online for over a decade. Higgs is defending himself against these claims. According to court documents, Higgs admitted that the eBay account “sultan1966” belonged to him.

Aerial shot of the British Museum, London. (Luke Massey & the Greater London National Park City Initiative/CC BY 2.0)

Aerial shot of the British Museum, London. (Luke Massey & the Greater London National Park City Initiative/CC BY 2.0)

Tonio Birbiglia, an antiquities dealer from New Orleans, told the BBC that he purchased the amethyst gem from sultan1966 in May 2016 for £42 ($55) along with an orange scarab beetle for £170 ($216). Birbiglia said the seller identified himself as “Paul Higgins” and used Higgs’s personal email address. He expressed shock when contacted by the FBI and mentioned he could not recall the purchases as he likely bought the gems to resell. When he asked for more information to help trace the items, he received no response.

The FBI is now assisting with the investigation of 268 items sold in the Washington DC area by the same seller. The museum has already recovered 626 missing items and identified another 100 that have been located but not yet returned. The museum acknowledged the difficulty in recovering all items, as many were uncatalogued, and some are fragments of larger objects.

Dr. Peter Higgs: Modus Operandi of an ‘Introverted’ Individual

Dr. Peter Higgs began his career at the British Museum in 1993 as a research assistant, following his archaeology studies at the University of Liverpool. Residing in a modest semi-detached house in Hastings on the south coast, Higgs was later characterized by the museum’s chairman as a “rather quiet, introverted” individual.

In 2016, shortly after removing an eBay listing, the museum alleges that Dr. Higgs accessed its database and attempted to alter the catalogue entry for a Priapus cameo. Out of the museum's total collection of 8 million items, approximately 2.4 million remain uncatalogued or only partially catalogued. The museum, now pursuing a civil court case against Higgs, believes he primarily targeted these uncatalogued artifacts, though in this instance, he reportedly made an error, elucidates another BBC report.

The Priapus cameo was a catalogued item, visible to both the public and museum staff, and even featured on the museum’s website—an object that could not simply vanish without notice. According to court documents, had Higgs succeeded in his tampering attempt, the cameo's database photo would have been obscured from view. However, the museum claims that his effort was unsuccessful.

Dr. Ittai Gradel, a Danish antiquities dealer who first alerted the museum to the thefts, traced stolen objects to buyers in Hamburg, Cologne, Paris, and Hong Kong. Gradel purchased items from sultan1966 in good faith and resold them to private collectors, including a 2nd-century obsidian head of Hercules, which was loaned to the Deutsches Edelsteinmuseum in Germany for an exhibition. Curators considered it a highlight of the show.

Gradel bought the Hercules head for £300 ($381), though it is thought to be worth thousands. The seller, identified as Paul Higgs, claimed it was passed down from a grandmother.

“I think it’s glass — very nicely-modelled little head, about 3cm (1.2 in) high. I don’t know if you are interested in things like this, but if you are, we are open to offers,” wrote the seller, as quoted by The Times.

Renewed Efforts: Tracking the Missing Pieces Down

The British Museum continues its search with assistance from the Metropolitan Police’s art and antiquities unit, the Art Loss Register, the Association for Research into Crimes against Art, and scholars from international institutions.

George Osborne, chairman of the British Museum, apologized to Gradel for initially failing to investigate his warnings properly. Gradel, who received a public rebuke from Hartwig Fischer, the museum’s former director who resigned over the thefts, insisted he provided ample information to prompt an investigation. He has identified dozens of items he acquired and is returning them.

“I think Ittai Gradel did the museum a great service. I’m sorry he was not listened to in February 2021 when he alerted us to these thefts, but I hope he can look at the changes that have been made and see that some good has come out of what has been a very sad and unfortunate series of events,” concluded Osborne, in manner of apology.

Top image: FBI has joined the investigation of the the British Museum theft.  Source: coward_lion/Adobe Stock

By Sahir Pandey


Dolan, A. 2024. FBI agents are probing the sale in America of hundreds of treasures suspected of being stolen from the British Museum. Available at:

Malvern, J. 2024. FBI investigates sale of ‘stolen British Museum treasures’. Available at:

Razzall, K., et al. 2024 . British Museum gems for sale on eBay - how a theft was exposed. Available at:

Razzall, K., et al. 2024. FBI investigating missing ancient treasures from British Museum. Available at:

Sahir's picture


I am a graduate of History from the University of Delhi, and a graduate of Law, from Jindal University, Sonepat. During my study of history, I developed a great interest in post-colonial studies, with a focus on Latin America. I... Read More

Next article