ancient relics
November 3, 2011

Trade in Teasures, Part two

Should artifacts be returned to their country of origin?

“I’m after two things only. Anything that’s stolen from Egypt — we have evidence that it’s stolen — it should come back. And the second important thing, I’m only saying there are six artifacts that are unique, that are important. Their home should not be Germany, or France, or Italy, or Africa. It should be in Egypt.”

Justin: But fears of loss, theft, damage and overall inability to protect priceless antiquities are among the top reasons museums are on the fence about returning objects to places like Egypt. Especially after weeks of protests in Cairo, Egypt — though largely peaceful — led to the eventual fall of its longtime government early last year, and the theft of more than a dozen artifacts. Add to that concern in the museum world that the UNESCO law doctor, Hawass, says justifies antiquities being sent back to Egypt may not be so sound after all.

Dr. Hawass: I don’t think there’s a legal basis for their return.

Justin: Dr. Jim Cuno is the president of the Art Institute of Chicago. He has also studied and written about the debate over returning  antiquities, and he tells us returning ancient relics is easier said than done.

Dr. Hawass has called for the Rosetta Stone and the Nefertiti bust to be returned and he says he has UN laws supporting him.

What do you think of that claim?

Dr. Hawass: So, it’s one thing to claim that these things have been found within the borders of a nation state and, therefore, they are the property of the state and the responsibility of the state to care and protect and to encourage the study of them. That’s one thing, but the other to claim that these things are the property of the state because they are of the people of the state or important to the self-esteem of the people of the state.

Justin: Basically, an artifact shouldn’t be sent back to its home country just because people there want it. Especially, if it is well-maintained and in a place where it can be safely studied and seen by many people.

Dr. Cuno also says it is in a country’s best interest to have its antiquities on display in several places.

Dr. Cuno: If you were an insurance person, you would encourage me to distribute my risk — to not put all of my things in one place because something might happen to them. So, the same with these laws. We should distribute them, not just for the preservation, which is extremely important, but for extending access to them. I think we saw in the course of the uprisings of the people of Egypt that what people really want, how they derive their self-esteem is from being in control of their future, not by any control of the past.

Justin: To guarantee high-profile artifacts heists never happen again, Egypt has announced a special police force will now stand guard at museums and archaeological across the country. A new effort to protect Egypt’s past that Dr. Hawass and others hope will lead to a long future for its priceless treasures.

Justin Finch, Channel One News.


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