30 Comments

POLL: Should all Egyptian antiquities be returned to Egypt?

What do you think? 

Please do comment and reveal the reasons behind your decision as these will be followed up in a future post. 

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30 comments on “POLL: Should all Egyptian antiquities be returned to Egypt?

  1. I’m not going to delve into the ethics behind all this at this point (I will argue this when I have more time) but I chose “Unsure” due to the unstable political climate in Egypt at the moment and the fact that there have been reports of looting in recent weeks. We also have to ask whether Egypt has the facilities to preserve and display any returned items when the museum in Cairo struggles to maintain its existing collection.

    To be continued…

    • These are great points. I also answered ‘Unsure’ for the same reasons. The primary concern for me is preserving these artefacts for future generations, wherever that may be.

      I look forward to reading continuation! 🙂

      • OK…here goes. I’m by no means an expert and am likely to go off on a tangent but bear with me.. 🙂

        Arguments for:

        1) Many of the artefacts in foreign museums were obtained by what’s now considered illicit means so Egypt would have a valid claim to ask for its cultural property to be returned…even if many Egyptians were responsible for looting the tombs and sites in the first place. This is an unfortunate result of colonialism and we have to accept that many of the treasures now housed in European and American museums were originally acquired by questionable means.

        2) Having artefacts from the same tomb or cemetery under one roof rather than several could allow Egyptologists to study the items as a whole. The context of the artefacts will have been lost decades or centuries ago but I’d imagine it’s easier to work with a complete collection rather than study an artefact in isolation.

        3) Boosting tourism. The museum in Cairo might already have more than enough within its walls to attract visitors but smaller museums might benefit from having the bust of Nefertiti or Rosetta Stone added to their collections. The return of such items could even lead to more museums being built, which in turn would boost the local economies of smaller towns and help alleviate the high rates of unemployment across the country.

        Arguments against:

        1) Tourism has suffered in the wake of the Arab Spring and it is perhaps best that funds and efforts are focussed on maintaining the existing facilities and collections and protecting sites and museums against looters. Repatriating antiquities without any guarantee for their safety would be a mistake. These are priceless items of immense academic and cultural significance and no one would want them to see them damaged or stolen.

        2) I have mixed feelings about the “empty museum” argument but I do think museums around the world would suffer if they were to return everything that had been acquired by legal or not-so-legal means. Many people may not get the chance to visit Egypt or Greece or any other country you care to name so museums may be their only exposure to these ancient cultures. Yes, the internet can do a lot to combat this (many museums now have digital databases) but think back to the first time you came face to face with a mummy case or the Parthenon marbles. How many people might not have become archaeologists if they hadn’t visited a museum in their youth?

        I know the second argument against repatriation is a weak one and quite biased but here are some of my thoughts on how we can avoid the “empty museum” scenario (again, you can tell I’m not an expert in this subject but it’s an issue I’m interested in).

        1) Countries could reach an agreement to loan their cultural property on an mutual exchange basis. This would be an excellent way for people of all nations to learn more about other cultures and would enrich the lives of millions.

        2) Museums could consider the possibility of creating replicas of the artefacts they are asked to repatriate. Last year, I visited the “Tutankhamen: His Tomb & Treasures” exhibition in Brussels and was impressed that all of the items on display were near-perfect replicas of the original artefacts. Even the four chambers of his tomb were painstakingly recreated so as to show the tomb as it looked when it was opened. While costly, this seems like a good compromise. The original artefacts can be returned to their countries of origin but the museums can display the replicas, which would still be of educational value and allow people to enjoy these ancient treasures without having to save up for a trip abroad.

        I’ve think rambled on for long enough so please feel free to agree or disagree with me. 🙂

      • All valid comments! I completely agree with everything you have said. The mutual exchange loan system is what I was driving at.

  2. I answered no. While I like the idea of having all the artefacts in their place of origin, it’s good to have artefacts displayed in museums worldwide so that people in distant countries can have the pleasure of viewing them locally as well as having the opportunity to learn about Egypt without actually having to visit.
    However, (I’m not sure about the current policies) but I think that further discoveries should remain in the country, either in situ or placed in the new Grand Egyptian Museum.

  3. I voted no. For me personally, I’d be gutted if I went to a museum & there was nothing there from the rest of the world. To stand in awe is the best feeling ever. Also how would museums adapt?

    • This is also part of the reason that I am unsure, Kim. But same question to you as I asked Mimi below: what if they Egyptian museums loaned the objects to the other museums worldwide? Different artefacts could be loaned to different museums then, rather that the same objects being in the same collections all of the time. I suppose it would have to be regulated – if all the artefacts were returned and then Egypt decided not to loan out any objects, that would be extremely sad as I know not everyone could travel to Egypt to see them.

      • Actually, loaning globally is not a bad idea. That way, artefacts can be rotated around the world in different museums so that no-one misses out on seeing them first-hand. Plus, it would be a great source of income for Egypt and it’s museum to further assist with discoveries and preservation

      • I totally agree. Personally, I can’t afford to travel around the globe to see artefacts (no matter how much I wish I could!!!), and rotating them around different museums would be amazing. But I suppose all that transportation would take its toll on the artefacts. And increase the risk of theft?

  4. I have mix feelings about this question. My love for ancient Egypt tellls me that everything must be returned to its place of origin, specially considering the circumstances the pieces have been removed from Egypt in the first place…. In the other hand, thanks to the museums that have egyptian collections I had the chance to admire Egyptian artifacts, sculptures, mummies and even part or temples years before my first trip to Egypt. The reasonable answer must be NO, for many many reasons.

    • I have these mixed feelings too, Paola. For purely selfish reasons, I would love the artefacts to stay where they are – if there weren’t any artefacts in Britain, I doubt that I’d be able to study Egyptology, as I can’t move abroad. Would Egyptology be on offer at universities across the globe if they didn’t have any Egyptian collections?

      • Definitely no!!! And you are very lucky to live in a place where Egyptology is offered in universities. I wanted to study Egyptology but there is no such career in my country (Ecuador – South America) or anywhere close. At the end of the day, having Egyptian collections in museums around the world allow everyone to appreciate how great this civilization was. It is a legacy of Egypt and of all the world.

      • Hmm, many universities offer Egyptology without collections …. And there are universities that have Egyptian collections but do not offer Egyptology …

      • This is true – I suppose I’ve just got used to the luxury of having a fab collection on my doorstep! 🙂

  5. I answered “no”, because I think the Egyptian collections all around the world contribute to the interest toward ancient Egypt. And this interest in the one which makes people going to Egypt to visit. I think if all the Egyptian artefacts were returned to Egypt, there will be less tourists, less vocation to become egyptologist, so such an initiative won’t be the higher good of Egypt.
    Morever, there is the political background. Of course, I know the Muslim Brothers aren’t the Salafists, but we don’t know which will be their cultural politics. We only can wait and see, but I hope the religious obscurantism won’t win against the knowledge of Egypt’s history.

    (Sorry if my English is poor, hard to find the good words to put in English what I think in French!!)

    • That makes perfect sense, Christine! Good points – I hadn’t considered the potentially negative impact upon Egypt’s tourism, so that’s very interesting to think about!

      • I also agree with artifacts being on loan and rotated worldwide, as long as it’s agreed by all museums. This could assist the the Egyptian economy as they gain financially and they could use this extra income for preservation. It would be great to see exhibits changed periodically, not just for visitors but think of how exciting it would be for the curators. There would be more opportunities to design and display as the exhibitions change.
        As a would be teacher I think the opportunity to educate and inspire would be increased beyond measure. This would also provide new challenges within the learning departments of museums.

  6. I find the the worldwide share of Egyptian artefacts interesting, but would the museums have enough resources ? When artefacts are send to other museums for an exhibition, the insurance expenses (is that the good term?) are sometimes high, and even great organizations can’t afford them. It would need public founding, and sadly nowadays culture hasn’t the priority in state’s budgets…
    But the idea is great!!

  7. Should all Dutch landscapes go back to Holland? Should all French Impressionist paintings only be shown in the Louvre? Art should be for everyone. Egypt has more things than it can show or properly take care of now. In the old days when excavated objects were shared fairly, everyone benefitted.
    For science and scholarship real objects, not replicas are needed. Now even a potsherd can leave Egypt. We aren’t only talking masterpieces here, there are vast quantities of duplicative objects piled up and deteriorating in store rooms for lack of proper care. Museums are like game preserves- the only way to insure the survival of this material is to spread it around. Look what happened in Baghdad and Afghanistan and what almost happened in Cairo. Likewise, looting isn’t just to feed foreign museums, things are melted down or destroyed in the search for gold, or “red mercury,” or simply vandalized for political or religious purpose.

  8. There are so many many artefacts, frankly I don’t think Egypt would want them all back! Think of all the millions (and this is no exaggeration) of pottery shreds, random tiny bones, faïence beads, shabtis, little lumps of clay or stone or faïence that remain unidentified in museums, scraps of linen, fragments of cartonnage, tiny beads, all the flotsam and jetsam that is rarely on display… Discussions in the media and in governments usually focus on “pretty” or “important” pieces — mummies of possible rulers or well-known figures, inscribed objects or texts, or anything made of gold or silver. They also concentrate on major artefacts looted from Egypt after the ban on exportation of artifacts. Illegally acquired artifacts I feel should be returned, as any stolen items from anywhere or anybody should be. The really interesting “stuff” is usually ignored unti worked on by a researcher who sees its potential for adding to our knowledge of life in Egypt, but it usually is attributed little value otherwise, especially not by the general public, media, or governments.

    • That’s a very good point about the hundreds of thousands of potsherds etc. It would be such a shame to have even more objects hidden away in storage due to lack of display space!

      I definitely agree that illegally/questionably acquired objects should be returned.

    • Some very good points, Kasia, especially about the less “important” artefacts. Many of those smaller pieces are valuable sources of information to archaeologists and researchers but I can imagine that the general public would be put off by seeing “yet another collection of smashed pottery”.

  9. […] The Egyptiana Emporium – Gemma asks her readers: Should all Egyptian antiquities be returned to Egypt?  […]

  10. yes i would say yes

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