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British Museum won’t return any looted cultural relics

The British Museum’s statements regarding the Elgin Marbles [1] could well have an impact on many other items in their collection that people want returned.

Straits Times [2]

British Museum won’t return any of its stolen cultural relics
The Dunhuang Cave relics will stay at the British Museum following its refusal to return Greece’s Elgin Marbles, say officials
By Alfred Lee

LONDON – The British Museum is unlikely to return China’s Dunhuang Cave treasures and other stolen cultural relics following its statement yesterday that it has decided to not give back Greece’s famous Elgin Marbles.

The Marbles were looted from the Parthenon in Athens in the early 1800s by Lord Elgin, the British Ambassador to Greece.

Historians and academic experts on cultural artefacts had said that if the museum repatriated the Parthenon masterpieces to Greece, it was almost certain that the centuries-old relics plundered from the Dunhuang Caves in China by British archaeologists would also be returned.

But the director of the British Museum, Mr Neil MacGregor, announced yesterday that he had ended all talks with a powerful group of academics fighting for the return of the Marbles in time for the Athens Olympic Games next year.

‘It is tiresome for everyone to keep saying the same things,’ he said.

The Marbles would never be returned to Greece, nor would they ever be lent, he added.

The decision will infuriate the Greek government, which first called for the return of its treasures in 1829 and formally asked British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1961 to repatriate the Marbles.

It has built a vast new gallery in Athens in the hope that the Marbles would be returned.

The gallery will now be kept empty and Olympic visitors will be able to read a history of the looting of the treasures and Britain’s refusal to return them.

British Museum officials said the decision to not repatriate the Marbles ended all chances of the Dunhuang Cave and other treasures being returned to China.

‘How could we return relics to China and justify holding on to the Elgin Marbles?’ one official said.

‘If we sent back Chinese artefacts, it would open the floodgates of demands not only from Greece but from many other countries.’

The British Museum has in its possession thousands of Buddhist and oriental paintings, manuscripts, statues, ornaments, jewellery and other cultural relics plundered and illegally smuggled out of China by archaeologists, diplomats, traders, professional looters and criminals.

Many of them were passed on to another party before being ‘acquired’ by the museum – often for huge sums of money.

That allowed the museum to say it was simply rescuing stolen artefacts for public display to present and future generations.

But its China gallery is small and just a handful of its oriental treasures can be exhibited.

The rest, including many great Dunhuang relics, are kept in darkened locked storerooms, rarely seen by anybody.

ELGIN MARBLES: Dismembered

THE Elgin Marbles include fragments of sculptures representing scenes from Athenian mythology.

According to the Times of London, the Greeks have published a photographic ‘virtual reunion’ of the dismembered heads, limbs and torsos.

The foot of a Lapith woman is in London, but her torso is in Athens. Horses’ heads are separated from their bodies.

A head of Iris is in Athens; the torso is in London.

In a battle scene between a centaur and a Lapith, the heads of a Lapith and a centaur are in Athens, and their torsos are in London.