Quote of the Day

Lord Elgin's petition presented. The collection praised. Lord Elgin's conduct, and his right to the collection as his private property much questioned. Petition to lie on the table.

Speakers notes from Parliamentary debate on the marbles

The reunification of the Elgin Marbles & other disputed artefacts

The Parthenon Sculptures (also called Parthenon Marbles or Elgin Marbles) are split between several museums. Despite numerous similar cases of contested ownership of cultural property, few loan or return requests are successful. Elginism aims to raise awareness by publicising the issue & cataloguing news on it, as well as working in conjunction with various campaigns including Marbles Reunited, & the IARPS.
To track the latest news updates, you can also follow Elginism on Twitter or Facebook.

February 27, 2015

Bronze Statuette returned to Oliveriano Archaeological museum

Posted at 1:57 pm in Similar cases

A bronze statuette stolen from an Italian museum has been returned after it was identified at an Auction in New York.

Bronze statuette of Hercules from Oliveriano Archaeological Museum in Pesaro

Bronze statuette of Hercules from Oliveriano Archaeological Museum in Pesaro

From:
BBC News

25 February 2015 Last updated at 16:13
Stolen art returned to Italy from New York

An ancient statuette and an 18th Century painting have been returned to Italy, having turned up in New York decades after being stolen.

The painting, The Holy Trinity Appearing to Saint Clement, is by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, a Venetian artist born in 1696.
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February 25, 2015

Christopher Price, MP and stalwart Marbalista – 1932-2015

Posted at 2:23 pm in Elgin Marbles, Marbles Reunited

I was sorry to hear earlier this week that Chris Price had passed away at the age of 83.

For those who didn’t know him, Chris was a former Labour politician, who worked tirelessly for many years in support of the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece. He studied classics at Oxford and expressed his views on the Elgin Marbles (as they were then known) to colleagues as early as 1958. This is interesting, as many retentionists like to believe that any movements for return only originated when Melina Mercouri became Culture Minister in Greece in the 1980s, whereas the reality is that the return movement has always existed.

Chris was one of the original members of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, and its Deputy Chairman for many years. He was also a member of Marbles Reunited, liaising between the two committees. He was also a great philhellene and critic of the Turkish invasion of Northern Cyprus. Unlike many of today’s politicians, he was a man of substance and conviction – somebody who would do what he believed to be right, rather than perpetually worrying about whether this would damage his chances of being re-elected.

After leaving parliament following electoral defeat in 1983, he went on to become the vice-chancellor of Leeds Polytechnic during its transition to becoming a university, part of his lifelong commitment for a fairer and more equal society and the importance of educational opportunity. Once he retired had more time available to devote to the restitution of the Parthenon Sculptures, regularly using his parliamentary contacts and in-depth knowledge of government procedures to secure meetings, discover about new bills that were going to be debated and otherwise intervene, to make sure that the opinion of those supporting reunification of the sculptures was heard.

He enriched the lives of all of us who were lucky enough to have known him, and his expertise will be missed by all who campaign for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures. While others might have pre-conceived ideas of how the campaign should be managed, Chris was always open to adapting strategies and incorporating new approaches, in order to accommodate changing conditions. When I last met with him in 2010, he was enthusiastically talking to me about the idea of cultural decolonisation – the idea that Britain had decolonised physically, but never bothered to send back the cultural artefacts when she granted independence & that this was a widespread movement that needed to happen.

Chris died last Saturday 20th February 2015, after a period of poor health following a stroke.

Christopher Price, Deputy Chairman of the BCRPM

Christopher Price, Deputy Chairman of the BCRPM

From:
Independent

Christopher Price: Energetic MP who despite his combative nature was liked and admired both by colleagues and opponents
Tam Dalyell
Tuesday 24 February 2015

It was Christopher Price’s misfortune – and in my informed opinion the nation’s – that he never held a safe Labour seat. In 1966 he took Birmingham Perry Barr from the Conservative incumbent Dr Wyndham Davies but perished when Edward Heath came to power in 1970. In February 1974 he was elected to Lewisham West, and held the seat in 1979, but to the huge sadness of his many Labour friends – he had the rare gift in politics of being candid and outspoken without making enemies – he lost by a sliver in the 1983 election at which Gerald Kaufman described Labour’s manifesto as “the longest suicide note in history”.

Had Price survived he would certainly have been elected to the Shadow Cabinet, and might well have been elected leader rather than Neil Kinnock; he would have garnered votes from a number of colleagues. His eventual successor in Perry Barr, Jeff Rooker, then a young engineering manager, told me Price had been well-regarded by the Birmingham Labour councillors and local union leaders. Jill Knight (Edgbaston) remembered him as a first class colleague on City of Birmingham supra-party issues. Brian Walden, elected in 1964 for Birmingham all Saints, told me, “Chris Price was a very, very good constituency MP. He genuinely cared about people, not least those from ethnic minorities. I have nothing adverse to say about him.” Coming from the most acerbic TV inquisitor of our age, that last sentence is an accolade.
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February 24, 2015

Germany sued in US courts over Nazi looted Guelph treasure

Posted at 2:02 pm in Similar cases

Once again, the courts of the District of Columbia seems to be one of the destinations of choice for litigation involving Nazi loot.

In this instance, the items in question are the Guelph Treasures, which two claimants were sold under duress by their ancestors in 1935 to the state of Prussia, then overseen by high-ranking Nazi Hermann Göring. The treasures are currently displayed in Berlin’s Bode Museum.

Part of the Guelph treasure currently on display in Berlin

Part of the Guelph treasure currently on display in Berlin

From:
Wall Street Journal

Germany Is Sued in U.S. Court Over Medieval Treasure Acquired by Nazis
By Mary M. Lane
Updated Feb. 24, 2015 12:13 a.m. ET

BERLIN—A year after Germany pledged to bolster its efforts to return art stolen by the Nazis, Jewish claimants to medieval relics valued at millions of dollars say the government isn’t living up to its promise.

Two claimants to a collection of medieval Christian treasure filed a suit in the U.S. District Court in Washington on Monday against the German government and the government-controlled museum that owns the artifacts. They allege their ancestors sold the collection, known as the Guelph treasure, under duress in 1935 to the state of Prussia, then overseen by high-ranking Nazi Hermann Göring.
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Virtual technologies as a solution for cultural property disputes

Posted at 1:44 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

Kwame Opoku has written an interesting response to Paul Mason’s recent article suggesting that virtual reality and 3D printing could be a solution to the Parthenon Marbles problem.

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

From:
Kwame Opoku (by email)

CAN MODERN TECHNOLOGY HELP RESOLVE DISPUTES ON RESTITUTION OF CULTURAL ARTEFACTS?
Kwame Opoku
20 February 2015

There is no doubt that modern technology can contribute a great deal to arts and education generally in spreading knowledge about the cultures of the world. For example, a child in Nigeria can learn a lot about Africa if she has access to Internet, IPhone or IPad. She can learn about African History, the drinking habits of the English, German family relations, Ghanaian Music and Dance. She could also learn about Yoruba cosmology, costumes and sculpture. But it still remains to be established whether modern technology could help resolve thorny problems of restitution of cultural artefacts.

Paul Mason has in an article in the Guardian, ”Let’s end the row over the Parthenon marbles – with a new kind of museum” has suggested that technologies such as virtual reality and 3D printing could make the physical location of ancient artefacts less important:
“However, the rise of digital technology should allow us to imagine a new kind of museum altogether. The interactive audio guides and digital reconstructions found in some museums should be just the beginning. It is now possible to extend the museum into virtual space so that exhibits become alive, with their own context and complexity. Hard as it is when you are managing a business based on chunks of stone and gold, we should challenge museum curators to think of their primary material as information.”
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February 19, 2015

Does the art industry support returning Parthenon Marbles?

Posted at 2:13 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

ITV News is carrying a story (I haven’t seen it picked up anywhere else so far), that a survey carried out by Public relations firm Bell Pottinger Arts indicates 60% of art experts back keeping the Parthenon Marbles in London. The article is short on detail or analysis, so most of what follows below is purely based on my own knowledge, observations and conjecture.

The poll result is interesting, as it does not reflect the results previously shown in a multitude of other surveys of the general public, or targeted groups, all of which have tended to show that more people are in favour of return than retaining them. These surveys have been conducted by respected polling companies such as Ipsos Mori, as well as by newspapers and magazines. Two things have been noticed from thee polls – firstly, that as time has progressed, support for the return for the sculptures has generally increased (possibly due to an increase in awareness in the subject, as press coverage of it has also increased). Secondly, there was a general trend, that the more educated people were about the topic, the more likely they were to support return. This was proven, not just where people were asked to rate their knowledge of the subject, but also borne out in polls such as that carried out by the Museums Association’s journal, which would clearly be catering for an audience that would have a greater understanding of the case than the general public.

Bearing in mind the above, alarm bells are ringing, when a new survey appears that seems to go against what has been shown in every other previous survey that I am aware of from the last 15 years. As such, the methodology has to be examined carefully.

There are a number of things that I would like to know:

Firstly, what was the actual question that people were asked? In most polls, the exact question wording is made public, but in this one, there is no indication of exactly what was being asked and the context of it within the questionnaire.

Secondly, who was asked? It talks about the 70 journalists and leaders of arts organisations in the UK, the Middle East and Asia who were questioned, without going into any more detail of who these were, how they were selected and the breakdown by country, type of organisation etc. It seems to have been a very targeted poll (perhaps intended to produce a certain result) and also to have a very small sample size. Polls by Ipsos Mori have typically used sample sizes of over 1000 members of the public.

Thirdly, the thing that interests me most, is who commissioned this poll and why? In my experience, companies such as Bell Pottinger don’t work for free, so some company / organisation / individual must be paying them to carry out this work. As this is all about the Parthenon Sculptures, the first thought is that the British Museum might be involved. There is also a clear linkage as to why this institution would chose to use Bell Pottinger, as Baroness Wheatcroft of Blackheath (AKA former Journalist Patience Wheatcroft) is not only the Deputy Chairman of the British Museum, but also an advisory board member of none other than Bell Pottinger. She is also a Conservative peer and former Daily Telegraph editor and it is well known that neither of these bodies are sympathetic to reunification of the Marbles.

If my above guesswork is correct, it is interesting, as it indicates that the British Museum have determined that they need to play a very different set of tactics to those that they have employed in the past (namely that of burying their heads in the sand). If they are now employing an outside PR company (albeit one with a less than stellar reputation for being anything other than guns for hire), then it suggests that they are perhaps no longer sitting quite as comfortably as they once were.

This assertion is backed up by the loan of one of the Parthenon Sculptures to St Petersburg last December, something that was the first real variation in policy noticed since Neil MacGregor took over as director of the museum over ten years ago. I can only deduce that is is clear that they are feeling the pressure, that they finally need to try and defend themselves. This ties in to heightened publicity in recent months about the sculptures in general, but also to the fact that it is now publicly known that the Greek Government has been in discussion with lawyers over whether legal action could be used to help secure the return of the sculptures.

I would suggest that this shows that the current Greek strategy is working, and as such I hope that the new Syriza government will continue to follow the footsteps of those who preceded them, in terms of how they deal with this issue, rather than backing off and letting the issue fall off the agenda once more.

One final thing to note is that the use of the name Elgin Marbles to describe the sculptures is a very loaded term, although it is unclear whether this was the decision of Bell Pottinger or ITV London. Even the British Museum has not used this term for many years now.

If The British Museum has appointed Bell Pottinger to handle this issue for them, I am sure we will be hearing far more about it in the coming months. Watch this space.

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

From:
ITV London

18 February 2015 at 12:20pm
60% of art experts back keeping Elgin Marbles in London

A survey of art experts found 60% in favour of the British Museum in London keeping the Elgin Marbles.

The marbles, which are 2,500 years old, were presented to the London institution almost 200 years ago after being removed from the Parthenon temple at the Acropolis by Lord Elgin. The debate over whether they should be returned to Greece raging ever since.
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February 18, 2015

UN Security Council resolution to protect Syrian Heritage

Posted at 2:03 pm in Similar cases

Its great that the UN has taken an interest in the looting of Syria, although as pointed out before, a lot of misinformation also surrounds the issue.

On the other hand, it is criminal that it takes so long to acknowledge that it is going to be a problem. With both Iraq and Egypt still fresh in people’s minds, it was clear that if the rule of law is removed, then the looting begins not long after. There are already international laws about purchasing of looted artefacts (although not all countries are signed up to them). What is needed is more control over the dealers that act as a conduit for artefacts out of war zones into the hands of private collectors. Without a market for the items, there might still be destruction in Syria, but the looting with the intent of profit would all but disappear.

The ruins of Apamea in Syria in 2004, before the current conflict

The ruins of Apamea in Syria in 2004, before the current conflict

From:
Artnet

UN Bans Export of Antiquities To Target Islamic State Revenue
Hili Perlson, Tuesday, February 17, 2015

UNESCO has published the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2199 that condemns the destruction of cultural heritage and adopts legal measures to counter illicit trafficking of antiquities from Iraq and Syria. The resolution decidedly targets Islamic State revenues, and threatens to place economic and diplomatic sanctions against countries and individuals that enable terrorist groups to profit from trade in antiquities, oil, and hostages.

The Director-General of UNESCO, Ms Irina Bokova, welcomed the new resolution, calling its adoption “a milestone for enhanced protection of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria.” The measures stipulated in the document extend to Syria “the prohibition of trade of cultural objects already in place for Iraq since 2003,” she added.
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February 16, 2015

Virtual reality as a route to ending Parthenon Marbles dispute?

Posted at 10:48 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Following the recent articles about 3D printing and museums, Paul Mason looks at how new technologies could perhaps provide a solution to the long running Parthenon Marbles dispute.

This is not the first time that such a proposal has been made – Something similar was proposed by Neil MacGregor in 2003. The big sticking point though is that while both sides feel that a replica may be a solution for the other side, they want to hold onto the originals themselves.

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

From:
Guardian

Let’s end the row over the Parthenon marbles – with a new kind of museum
Paul Mason
Sunday 15 February 2015 20.00 GMT

In the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, a marble statue of the river god Ilissos is displayed in heavily guarded isolation. Purloined by Lord Elgin in 1805, it was loaned to Russia by the British Museum last December, in the face of protests from the Greeks, who want all the Parthenon marbles back. The move was highly controversial. Russia and the EU had imposed mutual sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine, and critics made much of the fact that Brits could move statues to Russia, but Greek farmers could not export peaches there. It was a reminder that the politics of culture is always the politics of physical things.

The 21st-century museum keeper is faced with many voices clamouring for justice: for the return of stolen goods, for recognition of imperialist wrongs, for racial justice and women’s rights. They have offered two broad responses to such claims. The first builds on the “universal museum” principle, outlined by a group of influential directors, in 2004. Their argument is, first, that the present location of treasures such as the Parthenon marbles is, itself, a historical fact to be respected. Since antiquities fertilised the British Enlightenment, they have become part of our national culture. On top of that, they argue that, by maintaining large, free and well–secured collections in metropolitan centres, the “universal museum” gives global access to collections that are global in scope. This argument gained strength after the US military recklessly damaged archaeological sites in Iraq, and then Islamic State fighters overran them.
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Aboriginal leaders want British Museum to return more artefacts

Posted at 10:17 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

A few years ago, the law in the UK was changed to allow certain artefacts to be returned to their country of origin.

The 2004 Human Tissue Act had its origins in controlling the unauthorised storage of body parts of deceased patients by hospitals, but section 47 of the act covered a very different, yet tenuously related subject – the repatriation of human remains.

Following a successful campaign by Australian Aboriginal groups, a decision had been made by the British Government to make changes to the law, to allow artefacts that involved human remains (i.e. they were human remains, or part of them was composed from human remains) to be returned to their countries of origin. This change in the law was a major step forward, as for the first time it over-rode the 1963 British Museum Act, opening a new route by which items could be de-accessioned from the institution.

After the need for changes to the law were identified by a working group led by Professor Norman Palmer (who has recently been associated with the campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles), the Museums that held artefacts that might be affected by any change in the law, all wanted to limit any potential losses to their collections. As a result of this, various limitations were invoked within the act. Firstly, there was a 1000 year limit – artefacts older than this were not covered – a move that safeguarded any Egyptian mummies held by Britain’s major museums. The second limitation was a much more major distinction that of bones versus stones. It was argued that bones (i.e. human remains) were one category of artefact, whereas stones (i.e. pretty much everything else that was inanimate) constituted an entirely different category. While there are reasons that human remains should perhaps be seen in a different light, the move was arguably more about safeguarding large tranches of the museum’s collections, than it was about any real ethical distinction.

In the years since the Human Tissue Act came into force, there have been many instances of human remains being returned, from museums all over Britain. The returns have not just been to Australian Aboriginal groups, but also to many other indigenous peoples around the world.

During this time though, the stones versus bones argument never entirely disappeared. Aboriginal groups were pleased with the return of human remains, but to them, many other items in Britain’s museums held equally important cultural significance. The British Museum is now loaning some of the Aboriginal items in its collection to the National Museum of Australia, leading to new claims that some of these items should be returned. As the Aboriginal groups point out, these items tell a story about them and their culture, not a story about England.

Minor successes in this field have already been achieved, such as the Kwakwaka’wakw mask returned on a renewable loan basis, but these have been few and far between. To achieve what the Aboriginal Groups want would require another change in the law. This should not be considered as an insurmountable challenge – a few years after the 2004 Human Tissue Act, MP Andrew Dismore introduced the Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Act, which punched a new hole in the anti-restitution clauses of the British Museum Act – this time allowing the return of items looted during the Nazi Era.

With each new special case, the legitimacy of more artefacts within the British Museum’s collection comes into question, leading to further pressure for changes in the law to give the potential for long running restitution cases such as that of the Parthenon Marbles to be resolved.

Aboriginal bark painting of a barramundi dating from 1861

Aboriginal bark painting of a barramundi dating from 1861

From:
Guardian

Indigenous leaders fight for return of relics featuring in major new exhibition
Paul Daley
Saturday 14 February 2015 00.03 GMT

When Gary Murray contemplates the thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander objects held in the vaults of the British Museum in London, he strikes a simple analogy.

“All of these things that belong to our people in Australia – they don’t tell a story about the Queen of England, do they?” he asks.
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February 13, 2015

Greek government to pursue new Parthenon Marbles strategy?

Posted at 2:00 pm in Elgin Marbles

I’m struggling to work out if there is any actual new information that this story is based on or not. The clarifications seem to be more a matter of re-hashing what I wrote a few weeks ago. In essence, its correcting some incorrect statements from the earlier article, which in reality told little more than “new government to re-look at existing contracts”.

In time we will no doubt find out more about the new government’s strategy for dealing with the Marbles, but at present, we do not yet know a great deal.

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens

From:
Greek Reporter

Greece to Follow Different Strategy on Parthenon Marbles Repatriation
by Philip Chrysopoulos – Feb 13, 2015

The new Greek government is considering a different strategy for claiming the Parthenon sculptures from the British Museum and will likely stop cooperating with Amal Alamuddin-Clooney and her law firm.

The new Minister of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs Aristides Baltas told foreign reporters that Greece is seeking a new strategy to bring back the sculptures. He was quoted by The Times as saying, “Our campaign will continue, but the strategy and how we go about that may be tweaked, if required. We’ll be looking over these details in the coming weeks and if we see a need to alter them, we will.”
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February 12, 2015

Syria and the looting of antiquities by ISIS

Posted at 2:13 pm in Similar cases

Many photos have appeared in recent months showing the extent of looting and vandalism by ISIS in Syria and Northern Iraq.

Attempts are now being made to prevent this, which is a great step forward.

Many reports however also claim that the looting is the terrorist organisation’s second largest revenue stream after oil, although this link is as yet completely unproven and most likely incorrect, as proved by Jason Felch’s article here.

Archaeologists Rene Teijgeler and Isber Sabrinelooking for looted antiquities at a market in Gaziantep, Turkey

Archaeologists Rene Teijgeler and Isber Sabrinelooking for looted antiquities at a market in Gaziantep, Turkey

From:
Wall Street Journal

Culture Brigade
Syrian ‘Monuments Men’ Race to Protect Antiquities as Looting Bankrolls Terror
By Joe Parkinson, Ayla Albayrak and Duncan Mavin

TURKEY-SYRIA BORDER—In a hotel basement on the Turkish side of this combat-scarred frontier, a group of unlikely warriors is training to fight on a little-known front of Syria’s civil war: the battle for the country’s cultural heritage.

The recruits aren’t grizzled fighters but graying academics, more at home on an archaeological dig than a battlefield. For months, they have journeyed across war-torn regions of Syria, braving shelling, smugglers and the jihadists of Islamic State. Their mission: to save ancient artifacts and imperiled archaeological sites from profiteers, desperate civilians and fundamentalists who have plundered Syria’s rich artistic heritage to fund their war effort.
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February 6, 2015

3D printing – now everyone can copy ancient artefacts

Posted at 2:06 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Producing replicas of artefacts is often touted as a solution to ownership disputes – both parties can have a version. Of course it then raises a question of who gets to have the originals. Or, if both are equal then why either party would mind not having the originals.

There are many copies of the Parthenon Sculptures, made from a smaller number of first generation casts, but if they are indistinguishable, then one has to wonder why the British Museum has from time to time proposed that Greece should be completely happy with casts, when they themselves are unwilling to give up the originals.

A copy has its own history from when it was made & how it was made, but this is a completely different history to that of the originals. As evidenced in many cultural property disputes around the world, provenance is critical in many different ways. A piece of rock from the moon, even if of identical composition to one on earth has an inherent importance because of where it originated and what we can learn from that.

That said, copies have their own value, in allowing people to study items from a physical artistic point of view more easily & the prevalence of 3D printing is going to make this sort of research more commonplace in future.

The British Museum allows some artefacts to be downloaded and 3D printed

The British Museum allows some artefacts to be downloaded and 3D printed

From:
Charlotte Observer

3-D printer copying of sculptures: Is it legal?
By Ariel Bogle
Posted: Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015

Almost every physical object, from a spoon to Edgar Degas’ famous dancer sculptures, can be scanned and uploaded onto the Internet as a file, ready for download by anyone with a desktop 3-D printer. But like the digitization of music and books before it, the migration of objects of art and design online brings with it the baggage of America’s frustrating intellectual-property regime.

A cast of Michelangelo’s famous 16th-century sculpture of Moses sits on the campus of Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D. Jerry Fisher, who lives in the area, decided to create a 3-D printable version of the artwork using photogrammetry – analyzing 2-D photos of an object and turning them into a digital 3-D model.
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February 2, 2015

The 8th Lord Elgin and ransacking of Beijing’s Summer Palace

Posted at 1:56 pm in Similar cases

Regular readers of this blog will know that Thomas Bruce, AKA the Seventh Earl of Elgin, who removed the sculptures from the Parthenon, was not the only one in his family with a reputation for pilfering historic artefacts.

His son, the Eighth Earl of Elgin was responsible for the ransacking of Beijing’s Summer Palace and the fallout from this single event still causes controversy and tension between Britain and China today, whenever one of the artefacts is put up for public auction.

The full documentary is available to listen to on BBC’s iPlayer.

Some Bronze Zodiac heads looted from the Summer Palace have now been recovered and are on display in Chinese Museums

Some Bronze Zodiac heads looted from the Summer Palace have now been recovered and are on display in Chinese Museums

From:
BBC History Magazine

2 February 2015 Last updated at 08:52
The palace of shame that makes China angry
By Chris Bowlby BBC News, Beijing

There is a deep, unhealed historical wound in the UK’s relations with China – a wound that most British people know nothing about, but which causes China great pain. It stems from the destruction in 1860 of the country’s most beautiful palace.

It’s been described as China’s ground zero – a place that tells a story of cultural destruction that everyone in China knows about, but hardly anyone outside.
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