Friday, May 18, 2007

The repatriation of antiquities

In the light of Egypt's bid for the return of several key artefacts, on loan, for the opening of new museums, the following article looks at some of the issues involved for nations attempting to repatriate antiquities, and the museums that currently house them:
"Countries fighting for the return of artifacts don't have a lot of options, legally speaking. They can try to sue in the courts of the country that has the items, but that means a costly, long and uncertain legal battle. While most of the countries in question have laws in place that require the return of stolen artifacts, many of the disputed items were acquired long before these laws were enacted.
Financially, it's logical for the museums to want to keep these items. Iconic items can help draw millions of visitors a year and both the Rosetta stone and the Elgin Marbles are considered hallmarks of the British Museum. And even though the British Museum may not charge for entry, it only takes a few moments in its gift shop to realize how much money it makes from items like the Rosetta stone.
Of course, when arguing about things like cultural property, talking about money is considered a little crass. So the museum and others like it have come up with a set of arguments that do seem to hold a bit of water. Some argue that their ability to preserve the items in question far outweighs the ability of the countries seeking their return."
See the above page for the full story.