The day before Egypt's revolution began, the nation's then-antiquities chief, Zahi Hawass, demanded that Berlin's Neues Museum hand over its bust of Queen Nefertiti. Three weeks earlier, Hawass warned New York that he'd try to take back an obelisk in Central Park unless the city took better care of it.
Then came the revolution, when riots raged in front of Cairo's Egyptian Museum. On the night of Jan. 28 thieves broke in, with at least one descending into the Victorian-era building through a skylight. The looters made off with 18 objects, including statues of ancient-world celebrities King Tutankhamun and Nefertiti.
Some in the art world have seized on the chaos to oppose Egypt's demand for the return of its antiquities and to question the idea that ancient artworks and artifacts should be concentrated in their countries of origin (Italy and Greece are also seeking the return of national artworks). "The incidents during the Egyptian revolution could be taken as basis for a change of discussion," the Cologne (Germany)-based International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art said through its spokeswoman, Ursula Kampmann.
Discovery News (Benjamin Redford)
When visitors to museums see artifacts from cultures all around the world, an uncomfortable question sometimes arises: Why are they here?
Why should museums in Paris, London, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere contain objects that are important to the history of other (usually poorer) plundered lands? Many see the practice as an extension of Western imperialism. Though some items were purchased from the countries in which they were found, many were simply taken by European archaeologists and researchers. The repatriation of antiquities has been a sensitive issue for decades, and raises difficult questions.
Those who defend the practice point out that the treasures in Western museums are very accessible to the public, and allow people to see things they would never be able to examine otherwise. Furthermore, they point out, the historical artifacts are well preserved and protected for future generations of all cultures, and that (as condescending as it may seem) Western governments and countries are simply better equipped to properly care for the world’s historical treasures.