History's most feuded over loot from the Elgin marbles to Nerfertiti
Students at Cambridge University have voted to return a precious bronze cockerel plundered by the British in colonial times.
The artefact standing in the hall of Jesus College was taken from the Benin Empire – in modern day Nigeria – in 1897.
Museums across the UK and other former colonial powers are full of treasures that are now being claimed back by their country of origin. Here are some of the fiercely contested cases.
When the East Indian Railway was being built in 1861, a secret chamber was found in a hillside - and inside was this two metre tall beautiful metal statue dating from the seventh century.
Named after the north east Indian town where it was found, it was shipped back to the UK, where MP Samuel Thornton lobbied successfully for it to be sent to his home city. It is now on display at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and is often known as the
The Archaeological Survey of India has joined with UNESCO to lobby for the return of the priceless statue.
Mined in 13th century India, the £100million diamond was the biggest the world had seen, and caused bloodshed for 800 years. Owned by a Mughal emperor, a Shah of Persia and the first king of Afghanistan, it was seized for Queen Victoria by the East India Company in 1849.
This huge 105-carat diamond whose names means “mountain of light” in Urdu, was added to the Crown Jewels and last worn by the late Queen Mother.
An old Hindu text suggests it is cursed, adding: “Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity.” When India demanded the stone in 2010 to “atone for Britain’s colonial past” David Cameron refused. This month a judge in Pakistan agreed to hear a lawsuit claiming it belongs to the country.
The Elgin Marbles
The Elgin Marbles adorned the Parthenon in Athens in 400 BC before Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin and ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, sold them to the British Museum in 1801. Greece has fought to get them back ever since.
In the 19th century they were damaged by attempts to clean them using chisels and acid. Then in 2014 the world heritage organisation UNESCO asked the British Museum to let it mediate but the museum ‘respectfully declined’. Greece made a move by hiring human rights lawyer Amal Clooney who urged the Greeks to take Britain to the International Criminal Court. The idea was rejected and her contract was terminated due to the economic crisis. The stand-off continues.
The 3,300 year-old limestone bust of Nefertiti was unearthed by German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt in 1912 and taken to Germany in 1913.
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It now attracts 1million visitors every year to the Neues Museum in Berlin. Egypt has demanded the return of the statue since 1930, but Germany has refused, claiming the bust is too delicate to make the long trip. Prussian Cultural Foundation President Professor Hermann Parzinger said: “Nefertiti is and remains the ambassador of Egypt in Berlin.”
The Summer Palace Treasures
It’s another Lord Elgin - this time his son, who after the murder of British dignitaries during the Second Opium War and the Boxer Rebellion in 1860, ordered that the Summer Palace be burnt down and its treasures plundered. At the time one British officer wrote: “You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the places we burnt. It made one’s heart sore.”
The British Museum houses 23,000 items from China. In 2013 during a visit to China, David Cameron faced a campaign to return the items. But The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: “Questions concerning Chinese items in any museum are for the trustees of those collections to respond to and the Government does not intervene.”
The 2,200 year-old Rosetta Stone contains the same passage written in three ancient languages allowing academics to decipher hieroglyphs for the first time. It also sparked a long-running war of words between Britain and Egypt. It was rediscovered by a French soldier, but seized by the British when they defeated Napoleon in Egypt in 1801.
Now in the British Museum it attracts 5.5million visitors a year, more than any other exhibit.
Zahi Hawass, former Egyptian minister for Antiquities Affairs, renewed his calls for the Rosetta Stone to be returned in 2010 saying: “Important icons should be in their motherland, period.” A compromise deal to loan it to Egypt never transpired.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace
Britain is not the only nation which has refused to return treasures.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace was carved 200 years before the birth of Christ to celebrate a great naval victory over an Egyptian fleet, probably at the Battle Of Cos, and has been described as “the greatest masterpiece” of ancient Greek sculpture.
It was recovered and reassembled by the French consul and amateur archaeologist Charles Champoiseau in 1863 and shipped to Paris. It has stood in the Louvre since 1883.
There is a plaster replica of the statue in Samothrace, in modern day Macedonia, but in 1999 the mayor launched a campaign to bring the original statue home. The French government refused to return it.
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