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News: UK
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Gibraltar 1, a skull from an adult female Neanderthal, is on display at the Natural History Museum. Photo Credit: Alamy/The Guardian.
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by Archaeology Newsroom

UK museums face increasing demand for repatriation of antiquities

Requests derive from various countries

Various institutions in the UK, such as the British Museum and the Natural History Museum, are called to repatriate items in their collections. The calls regard long-running restitution claims of exhibits almost all of which have been rejected and the update was published by The Guardian

The pressure on museums has now soared after Τhe Guardian submitted freedom of information requests. It seems that the repatriation requests for high-profile exhibits, such as the Parthenon marbles, are only few of the cases where museums are asked to restitute items to their country of origin.

A few distinctive cases are that of the return of Neanderthal remains, namely two skulls on display at the Natural History Museum in London, claimed by the government of Gibraltar and the return of the remains of an extinct giant ground sloth, named Mylodon darwinii after Darwin, requested by Chile. The National Museum of Scotland was called on by the Egyptian government only last month to prove lawful ownership of a casing stone from the Great Pyramid of Giza which was to be displayed. Last year The British Museum was asked to return Hoa Hakananai’a, a basalt statue from Easter Island it was given by Queen Victoria in 1869, while Italy asked for the return of a marble relief depicting the freedmen Publius Licinius Philonicus and Publius Licinius Demetrius. The V&A museum was asked two years ago to return two “firedogs” taken from Gwydir Castle in Conwy, north Wales; the request was declined since the museum’s director replied that these were gifted to the museum by a benefactor in 1937 and offered to make them available as a loan or as a reproduction.

The British Museum has responded to the claims mostly declining under the terms of the British Museum Act, while assuring claimants that all items in its collection are undergoing research into provenance and how they entered the museum’s collection. Regarding certain cases the contribution of the items to collaborative international research has been highlighted as well, while other cases were under discussion regarding possibilities between claimant and the museum.

Debate among scholars as to whether the British Museum Act can justify the declining of these requests has been heated recently, stirred furthermore by the French President, Emmanuel Macron, who a few months ago called for thousands of African artworks in French museum collections to be returned to their countries of origin.

NOTES