Ethical Antiquity Ownership
The arguments over art repatriation, the return of art or cultural objects, seems to be about who owns antiquity. In the past our world has mostly operated on the philosophy of “to the victory goes the spoils” (Gross.) The widespread looting of cultural heritage during World War II led to the beginning of establishing global agreements regarding the thievery of these objects. The initial agreement did not approach the issue of returning previously taken artifacts. In 1970 and again in 1995 UNESCO made attempts to agree upon a standard of practice for returning the stolen artifacts and to address the artifacts already stolen and currently housed in museums and archives allover the world. Some of the more disputed artifacts include the Greeks “Elgin Marbles” currently in British possession, the “Benin Bronzes” currently in British possession, the Egyptian “Rosetta Stone” currently in British possession, and the Egyptian “Bust of Nerfertiti” currently held in Germany. These countries have been able to maintain possession based upon various debated reasons or questions of ownership. There are several pieces that the circumstance in which it departed the country of origin are debated. There have been some examples questioning whether the artifact had actually been a stolen artifact or simply a government gift. If it were a government gift was it a country in which the government was representative of the people, and if not, did they have the right to give away the artifact. Assuming there is no question of its origin or ownership there is also the concern of its future safekeeping and care. If returning to a country of poverty with little means to take care of the art or to protect it from further looting, should one do so for the purpose of maintaining this area of culture for future generations? As recent as January 2011, Cairo’s Egyptian Museum was a victim of a riot in which looters took 18 objects, including...
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