June 7, 2010

Pressure grows for the British Museum to return cultural treasures

Posted at 8:45 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

The recent conference in Egypt, highlights yet again that pressure for the return of cultural artefacts is growing from many parts of the world.

Daily Telegraph

British Museum under pressure to give up leading treasures
by Damien McElroy, Foreign Affairs Correspondent
Published: 7:39PM BST 07 Apr 2010

The British museum is to come under renewed pressure to give up leading treasures as 16 countries plan to sign a declaration that demands the return of artefacts sent overseas generations ago.

The demand, issued in Cairo at the end of a two-day conference, is addressed to every country that holds ancient relics.

Western museum hold most of the items listed by countries ranging from China to Mexico. The British museum is the principal target because of the prominence of the artefacts it owns.

Egypt wants returned include the Rosetta stone in the British Museum and the bust of Nefertiti in Berlin’s Neues Museum. Both the British and Neues Museum have rejected the demand.

The conference was hosted by Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, who has been an outspoken campaigner for the return of lost treasures.

Mr Hawass acknowledged that there was no international legal basis for the demands but said a united stand between affected nations would bolster the claims.

“Instead of Egypt fighting on its own, let’s all fight together. let’s all come out with a wishlist,” he said. “We need to co-operate all of us especially with that wish list. we need all of us to come with one list and fight until we return this artefacts back.

“Forget the legal issue,” he said. “Important icons should be in their motherland, period.”

A spokeswoman said the British museum had not received an official request from Egypt.

“The British Museum has not received an official request for the permanent return of the Rosetta Stone,” she said. “The Museum has received a request from the Supreme Council of Antiquities requesting the short term loan of the stone for the opening of the new museum in Giza in 2012 or 2013. The Trustees of the British Museum will consider this request in due course.”

It has faced a long running campaign by the Greek government for the return of the Elgin Marbles which were taken from the Parthenon at the outset of the 19th century.

Elana Korka, a Greek culture ministry official said the marbles were its prime concern. “We would like to see some good faith,” she said. “They are the Parthenon marbles and that is where they belong.”

International conventions written since 1954 prohibited wartime looting, theft and resale of artefacts but the agreements don’t apply to items taken abroad before national or global laws were in force.

Nigeria has listed its claims for the Benin bronzes, which are also housed from the British Museum. Mexico has demanded the return of a feathered headdress of a tribal warrior and China has sought the handover of astrological items looted from the Summer Palace in Beijing during the Second Opuim War.

Artefacts that are on the looted list:

1 Elgin Marbles (British Museum) Greece has long fought to reclaim the frieze stripped from the Parthenon at the behest of the 7th Earl of Elgin in 1801

2 Rosetta Stone (British Museum) Egypt demands the return of the 2,200-year-old stone tablet that holds the key to translating ancient hieroglyphs

3 Summer Palace bronzes (private French owner) China claims bronze heads from a zodiac clock were stolen during the Second Opium War in 1860

4 Benin Bronzes (British Museum) Nigeria lays claim to the royal treasures of Benin, saying that they were seized by British troops in 1897

5 Queen Nefertiti (Berlin Neues Museum) Egypt wants the 3,500-year-old bust of the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten returned

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