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850 looted treasures repatriated to Afghanistan from UK

July 23, 2012

850 looted treasures repatriated to Afghanistan from UK

Posted at 9:11 am in British Museum, Similar cases

More coverage of the ongoing attempts by the UK to return various Afghan artefacts, that have been seized by UK border officials. I’m unclear why the number of artefacts has altered significantly since the previous article I posted about it a few days ago.

From:
Independent

Looted treasures returned to Afghanistan by British Museum
Dalya Alberge
Thursday 19 July 2012

The British Museum, aided by British police and the UK Border Force, has helped return to Afghanistan hundreds of looted antiquities seized from smugglers, The Independent can reveal.

David Cameron will announce in Afghanistan today that 850 treasures have been repatriated, having been passed to the British Museum for safeguarding following their confiscation in Britain over the last two years.

A spectacular second-century sculpture of the Buddha, exquisite first-century ivories and delicate Bactrian Bronze Age cosmetics containers are among treasures that reflect the rich heritage of a land that was once a crossroads of Eastern and Western civilisations. Their combined value is thought to be around £1m.

Last week, in a secret operation, the entire collection was despatched on two military planes to the Afghan national museum in Kabul, which is desperate to rebuild its holdings. Up to 80 per cent of its exhibits were plundered or destroyed during the Afghan civil war of the 1990s.

Such was the concern about the safety of the antiquities that The Independent was asked to delay covering their return until they were back in the Kabul museum.

Bronze Age carvings and 1,000-year-old Islamic metalwork are among the objects confiscated at British airports, including Birmingham and Manchester.

These cases reflect a global trade that exploits Afghanistan’s decades of war to smuggle its heritage abroad for profit. Recent research by Unesco found that thousands of ancient pieces are smuggled through the country’s porous borders every year.

Some of the treasures were destined for the British art market. Others stopped off in the UK in transit, it is believed. The Metropolitan Police Art and Antiques Unit has been involved in the investigations. No arrests have been made so far.

Last week, a suicide bomber killed more than a dozen guests at a wedding in northern Afghanistan – the latest violent attack within the country.

But despite the ongoing risks, Afghanistan’s curators felt that they were now ready to be reunited with their antiquities. They have created a new display on Buddhism, where the repatriated Buddha sculpture will receive pride of place.

Last year, an anonymous British dealer collaborated with the British Museum to buy and repatriate that sculpture after recognising it as an important antiquity that had been stolen from the Kabul museum in the 1990s. It had been bought by a Japanese collector, from whom the dealer acquired it with his own money with the purpose of repatriating it to Afghanistan.

St John Simpson, the British Museum’s senior curator responsible for the pre-Islamic collections from Iran and Arabia, told The Independent: “We’re all in it together as museums and museum curators. I’d like to think that anyone would do the same for us if we were unlucky to suffer major disaster or crisis. It is a liberating moment for our colleagues in Kabul.”

Other important repatriated pieces include Begram ivories stolen from the Kabul museum and a 12th-century coin from Bamiyan – site of the Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban.

From:
Scotsman

Friday 20 July 2012
RAF returns looted Afghan treasures

British armed forces have returned historical artefacts dating back as far as the Bronze Age to Afghan museums, after they were stolen and smuggled abroad.

The precious cargo, weighing more than two tonnes and containing 843 individual objects, left RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire last week, and was then transferred by plane from the UK military base, Camp Bastion, in Helmand to Kabul.

Some of the items were looted from Afghanistan’s museums during civil wars in the country over the past two decades, while others came from illegal excavations of archaeological sites. They are thought to have been spirited out of Afghanistan for sale on the international black market.

The consignment included objects found in three separate seizures by customs officials as they were being smuggled into the UK, while other items came to light thanks to investigations by the art and antiques unit of the Metropolitan Police. Some were saved by private individuals.

They were stored at British Museum for safekeeping and recording until their return to Kabul. Some featured in the museum’s Afghanistan exhibition last year.

Among the most prized items are first-century furniture decorations known as the Begram Ivories and an important sculpture of Buddha from the second or third century, both stolen from Afghan museums during the 1992-94 civil war following the withdrawal of Soviet troops.

The oldest artefacts date back more than 4,000 years and include Bronze Age flasks and statuettes. There are also bowls, coins and pottery from the Islamic medieval period.

From:
Daily Telegraph

Stolen artefacts returned to Afghanistan by British Museum
Almost a thousand stolen Afghan treasures seized by police or customs officials have been delivered back to Afghanistan by the British Museum.
By Matthew Macaulay
3:05PM BST 19 Jul 2012

The British Museum, helped by British police and the UK Border Force, has helped return hundreds of looted artefacts seized from smugglers to Afghanistan.

A total of 850 treasures have been repatriated, having been passed to the British Museum for safeguarding following their confiscation in Britain over the last two years.

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said the return of the pieces was “the outcome of the ongoing dialogue between our cultural institutions, with the support of the authorities, to identify and preserve items from the national collection of Afghanistan that had been illegally removed during years of conflict”.

Among the artworks returned are a second-century sculpture of the Buddah, and delicate Bactrian Bronze Age cosmetic containers.

Last week, in a secret operation, the seized artefacts were dispatched on two military planes to the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul, which is keen to rebuild its holdings following the Afghan civil war, when 80 per cent of its exhibits were plundered or destroyed.

Many of the objects were seized at British airports by customs officials, or by the Art and Antiques Unit of the Metropolitan Police as they passed through Britain.

The seizures reflect a global smuggling trade exploiting decades of war Afghanistan. A number of the treasures are thought to have been destined for sale on the black market in Britain, while others are believed to have been in the UK in transit.

The British Museum houses one of the largest collections of antiquities in the world. Some objects in the collection, most notably the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, are objects of intense controversy and of calls for restitution to their countries of origin.

St John Simpson, the British Museum’s senior curator responsible for the pre-Islamic collections from Iran and Arabia, expressed his satisfaction at what he referred to as a “liberating moment for our colleagues in Kabul” and said that he hoped, “that anyone would do the same for us if we were unlucky to suffer major disaster”.

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