The museum’s announcement on August 16 said the majority of the missing, stolen, and damaged items were small pieces of “gold jewelry and gems of semi-precious stones and glass dating from the 15th century BC to the 19th century” that were kept primarily for academic and research purposes. None of them had been recently on display.
However, some of the missing items had been appearing in listings on eBay since at least 2016, with the Telegraph reporting that an antiquities expert told the British Museum three years ago that they suspected a member of staff was stealing pieces from its collection that were in storage.
In 2016, a piece of Roman jewelry made from the semi-precious stone onyx was listed for sale on eBay with a minimum price of £40. The listing attracted no bids. One dealer told the Telegraph its true value was between $31,890 and $63,780 (£25,000 and £50,000).
As a result of the discovery of the stolen, missing, and damaged items, the museum has launched an independent review into its security protocols. It also announced that it would take legal action against a fired staff member and that an investigation by the Metropolitan Police’s Economic Crime Command was underway.
Prior to his dismissal from the museum earlier this year, Higgs had worked at the institution for more than 30 years, organizing major exhibitions and writing books. His family told the Telegraph he was innocent and that he was “devastated” at the loss of his high-profile position.
Ironically, in 2013, Higgs served as an expert on a trafficked artifact after U.K. customs officials asked the British Museum for assistance in helping identify a statue that had been seized at Heathrow Airport. Higgs told the Guardian he knew right away it was a 2,000-year-old marble statue of a Greek goddess. The rare funerary statue was repatriated to Libya in 2021.