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Reserves

'Monuments Men': New Army Unit Aims To Protect Ancient Treasures

The 15-strong Cultural Property Protection Unit is made up of reservists who will defend the world's cultural treasures.

Anon troops

The new unit is made up of 15 reservists (Picture: PA).

A special unit to protect or retrieve ancient treasures has been formed by the British Army.

The 15-strong Cultural Property Protection Unit is made up of reservists from all three services with what the Royal Navy say have "a flair for Indiana Jones-style adventure".

The need for such a specialist unit is largely due to so-called Islamic State, which has destroyed numerous historic sites in the Middle East, including Iraq’s Nimrud palace, mosques in Mosul and certain Roman ruins in Palmyra.

33,000 devices have been removed from the large city of Mosul (Picture: Department for International Development).
A number of mosques in Mosul have been destroyed (Picture: Department for International Development).

The unit will be tasked with retrieving works stolen by terrorists, investigations into looting, the protection of ancient objects and reporting on sites of interest to the British military.

Restricting the flow of money to terrorist organisations will also be a key objective.

"Looting and selling antiquities has been proven as a fund-raising method for terrorist groups," said the unit’s commander Lieutenant Colonel Tim Purbrick, who served in the Gulf War before becoming an arts dealer.

"Part of our job is about preventing ‘threat finance’ – you have an adversary extracting cultural property from the region you are operating in and then, in effect, sending it back at you in the form of bombs and bullets."

Lt Col Purbrick: "Looting and selling antiquities has been proven as a fund-raising method for terrorist groups."

People with backgrounds as curators, art specialists, archaeologists and investigators were urged to consider signing up.  

“Our staff could find themselves out on an exercise doing operational planning or sitting at a border, checking vehicles for stolen artefacts," said Lt Col Purbrick earlier this month.

“There’s a strong possibility we’ll be working with allies such as the French out in somewhere like Mali where they are trying to prevent antiquities being smuggled out of the country.”