When I proposed a column to BAR editor Hershel Shanks on the issue of repatriation of artifacts to the country of origin, he said it was not something that engaged him. It didn’t matter to him, he said, where an artifact was located as long as it was available to scholars to examine and study, and was available to the public to see and appreciate. But Hershel is wrong. There is more to it than this. The real problem with repatriating artifacts is the sacrifice of one country’s history for the sake of another.
Western nations need to begin protecting their own histories, especially as requests for repatriation become more and more frequent. Greece, which desires the return of the Elgin Marbles, housed in the British Museum since 1816, has opened a new Acropolis Museum in Athens so the Marbles will have a proper home if they return. Zahi Hawass, now Egypt’s minister of antiquities, has for years discussed a list of six major pieces of Egyptian art that he would like to see brought back to Egypt (see sidebar). Arguments fly back and forth regarding the legality of England’s ownership of the Marbles and the legality of Berlin’s ownership of a bust of Nefertiti, one of the items on Hawass’s list.