April 27, 2006
The Turkish government has just requested that the British Museum return a Basalt Stele which is in their collection. Although there are a lot of potential restitution claims involving the British Museum, it is relatively rare for museums to receive an official request from a foreign government for the return of a piece.
At present there is no documentation to suggest that the stele was exported illegally – similarly there is nothing to indicate its legality either.
The Art Newspaper
Turkey claims stele in British Museum
Posted 27 April 2006
By Martin Bailey
LONDON. The Art Newspaper can reveal that the Turkish government has made a claim for a decorated stele in the British Museum (BM). This happened after a Turkish diplomat in Japan spotted the antiquity on loan to an exhibition on “Alexander the Great: East-West Cultural Contacts from Greece to Japan”, which was shown in Tokyo in 2003. It was not until last September that a letter was sent by the Turkish embassy in London. Although there is much talk of restitution claims against the BM, official requests are comparatively rare.
The basalt stele, dating from the first century BC, depicts a relief of Herakles greeting the sun-god, with a Greek inscription on the reverse. It was later reused as an oil-press, and hence the hole in the middle. The stele was excavated by Leonard Woolley in a field at Samsat, near the Turkish-Syrian border, probably in 1917-20. It was purchased by the BM from the Carchemish Exploration Fund in 1927.
BM director Neil MacGregor discussed the case with Turkish ambassador Akin Alptuna last autumn. Mr MacGregor is surprised that the claim had been made after nearly 80 years. He also believes that Woolley, a distinguished archaeologist operating with full Turkish authority, would almost certainly have the proper consent to excavate and export. No documentation had been produced to suggest the stele had been excavated or exported illegally. Nothing further has been heard from the Turkish embassy.
Because of the refurbishment of the BM’s Ancient Near East Galleries, the stele went into store on its return from Japan. On 12 April it went on display in room two. It will be moved to the refurbished galleries early next year.
- Turkey asks British Museum to return the Samsat Stele : April 10, 2012
- Turkey plans to block loans to British Museum over artefact dispute : April 23, 2012
- Turkey requests return of eighteen artefacts from New York’s Metropolitan Museum : March 21, 2012
- Illegally imported ring returned to Turkey by Britain : May 24, 2007
- Turkey puts pressure on foreign museums involved in artefact disputes : June 19, 2012
- British Library set to return Benevento Missal : March 23, 2005
- Turkey’s requests for the Samsat Stele to be returned – Cultural nationalism? : April 12, 2012
- Denmark denies looting artefacts from Bahrain : May 14, 2008