Have you ever gone to a museum and wondered where its artifacts came from? Well, there’s a chance that some of the treasures were stolen.
It’s an issue that’s contested all over the world between museums and the cultures that claim rights to the artifacts on display. Some of America’s most prestigious institutions have admitted taking part in the looting of artifacts.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the world’s biggest collectors of priceless artifacts, recently announced it would return its exhibit of relics allegedly looted from historical sites in Italy. The MET is not alone — Los Angeles’ Getty Museum plans to return artifacts from its Italian exhibit, while dozens of other museums around the globe are tracking down owners of artifacts obtained from collectors or dealers who have no idea how the artifacts came into their hands. Explore some of these treasures in the slideshow below.
In August of 2004, this well-known painting by Edvard Munch, worth an estimated $75 million, was stolen in broad daylight from a museum in Oslo, Norway. The painting -- and the thieves -- remain at large.
This 2,500-year-old vase, housed in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, is painted with a scene from Homer, and represents one of the finest examples of Greek vase painting. The artifact arrived in the United States in 1972 after being looted from a site north of Rome. The krater was returned to Italy in 2008.
This 3,200-year-old sculpture of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti has been on display at Berlin's Egyptian Museum in Germany since 1924. It was unearthed at the royal retreat of Amarna in 1912.
This carved steatite bowl from the ancient city of Ur is more than 5,000 years old. It is one of countless treasures that were lost or looted from Iraqi museums during the recent war in Iraq.
One of many ancient treasures that went missing during the war in Iraq, this gold helmet of King Meskalamdug, ruler of Ur, dates back to 2,400 B.C.
These marble sculptures decorated the Parthenon, the famed temple to Athena that graces the top of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. They were taken by the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 19th century, and now reside in the British Museum in London.
One of artist Gustav Klimt's best-known paintings, this portrait of a wealthy Jewish businessman's wife was taken by the Nazis after the businessman's family fled Austria at the start of World War II. The heirs are demanding the return of the painting from Austria's National Gallery.
One of six obelisks built when Ethiopia adopted Christianity in the 4th century A.D., the Axum Obelisk was taken by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in 1937 and erected in Rome as a symbol of fascist power. After decades of negotiation, Italy has agreed to return the 78-foot obelisk to Ethiopia.
Discovered in 1996 below the surface of Lake Wallula in Kennewick, Washington, this ancient skeleton was determined to be about 9,000 years old. Scientists hailed it as a link to the past that might shed light on human migration to North America, while Native American tribes in the area claimed it as an ancestor to be buried.
Paris's landmark obelisk in the Place de la Concorde, where the French Revolution reached its bloody heights, was given to France by the viceroy of Egypt in 1829. The immense granite monument, which stands 75-feet high in the middle of the square, once graced the entrance to the Amon temple in Luxor. Egypt has demanded the obelisk's return.