Evidence suggests that an artefact currently on loan to the British Museum for a temporary exhibition may have been illegally excavated. It could be argued that although the museum does not own the artefact, it is going against its own loan guidelines in accepting it for the exhibition.
The Art Newspaper 
Bronze at British Museum may be loot
Drum stand now owned by Shanghai Museum but origins unclear
By Martin Bailey
Posted online: 11.3.09 | From Issue 200 (March 2009)
LONDON. The centrepiece of the Chinese bronzes exhibition, “Treasures from Shanghai”, at London’s British Museum appears to have been illegally excavated within the past few years. However, it is now legitimately the property of the Shanghai Museum. The British Museum show is the first time the bronze has been exhibited.
Dating from 770-476 BC, the drum stand is decorated with three intertwined dragons. It probably comes from the tomb of a ruler, from a site that is unknown to archaeologists, possibly in Shanxi Province. Other important finds, such as musical instruments, may well have been looted from the tomb.
Shanghai curator Zhou Ya points out that the example on loan is “unlike anything else known from China”. Only six other bronze drum stands are known: five were excavated by archaeologists between 1978 and 2002 and one was acquired by other means (now in the Poly Art Museum, Beijing).
The Shanghai Museum has not given details of when and how the drum stand on show in London was acquired. In China, major antiquities from illicit sources are sometimes bought by the authorities for museums, to prevent them being smuggled abroad. However, there are concerns that this encourages illicit digging.
It is unclear whether the drum stand falls within the British Museum’s guidelines. Its loans policy, approved last September, states that the museum will “not lend to any exhibition which includes objects that have been…illegally excavated” and in requesting loans it observes “the same principles”. However, it could be argued that the fact that the Shanghai Museum now owns the item overrides these considerations.
Nevertheless, concern has been expressed over the loan. Archaeologist Professor Colin Renfrew, a British Museum trustee until 2001, said last month that “a little more due diligence in this case might have been useful”.
A British Museum spokeswoman stressed that the drum stand is “incontestably a Chinese object, it left with Chinese government approval, and the loan was approved by the Cultural Relics Bureau”, and “we feel it is important to allow the public access to this wonderful object”. The museum said that it is “not aware that the object was illegally excavated”. However, it does “deplore illegal excavation and the loss of archaeological context”. “Treasures from Shanghai” runs until 27 March.
Experts Question Potentially Looted Loan to British Museum
Published: March 12, 2009
LONDON—A work prominently featured in the British Museum’s current “Treasures from Shanghai” exhibition, on view until March 27, has some questioning whether the museum has violated its own recently implemented guidelines about showing illegally looted works, according to the Art Newspaper.
The work, a bronze drum stand dating from 770–476 B.C. on loan from the Shanghai Museum, likely came from the tomb of a ruler but is unknown to archaeologists. It appears to have been illegally excavated within the past few years.
In China, important antiquities are sometimes purchased from illicit sources and given to museums in order to ensure that they’re kept in the country.
Shanghai Museum curator Zhou Ya says the drum stand is “unlike anything else known from China.”
Last September the British Museum approved a policy stating that it will not “lend to any exhibition which includes objects that have been… illegally excavated” and will observe “the same principles” in requesting loans.
Speaking about the drum stand, a representative of the museum said that he was “not aware that the object was illegally excavated” and that the work is “incontestably a Chinese object.”
“It left with Chinese government approval, and the loan was approved by the Cultural Relics Bureau,” the spokesperson said.
Still, some have expressed concern over the loan, according to the newspaper. Colin Renfrew, a professor of archaeology and a British Museum trustee until 2001, said last month that “a little more due diligence in this case might have been useful.”