For decades, people have rightfully called for European countries to return stolen artefacts and antiquities to the countries they were taken from (see the second quoted text below). The growing scandal at the British Museum may finally be the wake up call to make this happen.
It’s an absolute disgrace. Between 1500 and 2000 items have been stolen, “misplaced”, or otherwise unaccounted for over decades. Some of them that WERE in the BM seen for sale on ebay, or in the hands of “private collectors”.
Experts say loss of 1,500 items reveals lax cataloguing and boosts case for returning objects to countries of origin
Aug 26 2023
Close observers of the antiquities market tend to be a cynical bunch, having witnessed any number of scams, dubious practices and illicit trading. Yet there was a collective expression of shock among them last week when news emerged of the unexplained absence of a reported around 2,000 items from the British Museum’s priceless collection of ancient and historical artefacts, leading to the resignation of director Hartwig Fischer.
“The volume of missing objects is huge,” says Christos Tsirogiannis, a forensic archaeologist who works with Trafficking Culture, which researches global traffic in looted cultural objects. “No experts were expecting this to happen in one of the world’s biggest museums.”
Christopher Marinello agrees. The CEO of Art Recovery International, which specialises in recovering stolen art, he says: “Our organisation gets reports of theft every single day from various museums, cultural institutions, churches around the world. What surprised us was the fact that it was the British Museum, one of the most important museums in the world and a benchmark in security.”
That benchmark has fallen several notches after reports of precious artefacts going on sale on eBay, where one Roman object, it is said, valued at up to £50,000 was offered for just £40. Last week the museum announced that Peter Higgs, a senior curator who worked at the institution for 30 years, had been sacked earlier this year after items were found to be missing.
From Princeton University’s African American Studies Program, 2021:
After France returned 26 cultural artifacts to the West African nation of Benin this week, one art historian says institutions still holding on to colonial loot need to “get the memo” and return cultural treasures to their homelands.
“They cannot play the ostrich, they have to face up [to] the reality and be on the right side of history,” said Chika Okeke-Agulu, a Nigerian art historian and African art professor at Princeton University.
The 26 items, including statues and a royal throne, were stolen by French forces in 1892, from the Kingdom of Dahomey in what is now the south of present-day Benin. The country’s president Patrice Talon met with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris Tuesday to mark the repatriation.
Experts estimate that thousands of African artworks and artifacts are still resting in museums and vaults far from their homelands — and there are growing calls for them to be returned. Germany has agreed to return hundreds of plaques and sculptures, known as the Benin bronzes, to Nigeria.