Here are some of the reasons why:
The unstable political situation in Egypt
Many of you feel that the recent unrest in Egypt creates a dangerous environment for artefacts, particularly in light of recent reports of looting. Egypt is not the only location whose artefacts have suffered due to political instability – Afghanistan’s treasures have suffered over recent years, and the quest to retrieve their looted pieces is still in action today.
“Art should be for everyone.”
There is a general consensus that Egyptian objects should be distributed throughout museums worldwide so that everyone can have a chance to view these treasures. Imagine walking into the British Museum, and only seeing artefacts that pertain to British history? This may be your ‘cup of tea’, but a lot of people enjoy experiencing the ‘mini world tour’ that many museums provide. Not everyone can afford to travel the world, and so they would miss out on all of the amazing archaeology that the world, and Egypt, has to offer. Online museum collections have made it possible to view treasures that reside in other areas of the world, and recently more and more museums are digitising their collections. However, there is no substitute for coming face-to-face with these beautiful and captivating objects.
The sheer volume of artefacts
As a number of you pointed out, there are literally hundreds of thousands of artefacts which pertain to Egypt – potsherds, beads, shabtis, and other small pieces which reside in storage across the globe make up a large proportion of Egyptian artefacts. We must question whether Egypt’s museums have the capacity for all of these objects. To result in an increase in the number of objects hidden away in storage due to lack of space would be a terrible shame.
Some of the reasons for repatriation are:
Returning looted and stolen treasures
Unfortunately, there are many objects in museum collections that have been obtained via illegal means – the debate regarding the repatriation of the Parthenon Marbles still rages on, and cites their ‘questionable’ acquisition by Britain as a reason for their return to Greece. Many of you feel that Egyptian artefacts which were obtained illegally should be returned to their rightful owner, Egypt.
Returning pieces to their origins
Some of you believe that the artefacts should be returned to the place from which they originated, a clear case of morality. Certainly this is a factor that must be considered alongside others, as shown by the undecided nature of those who cited this as a reason for repatriation. After all, what good would come of returning artefacts to their ‘home’, if their ‘home’ is not a safe place for them to be?
Reuniting fragments of the same artefact
This is a fantastic reason, which many of you believe would assist in the world of academia. However, there is no need to return ALL artefacts to Egypt for this to be achieved – fragments of sculptures from across the globe have been successfully reunited previously.
Some of you were unsure about repatriation, but posed possible compromises:
This would involve returning all of the artefacts to their places of origin, but then implementing a system whereby museums could exchange loans in order to keep diversity among their collections. However, downsides to this scheme include transportation and display costs, as well as potential damage to artefacts due to constant movement and increased risk of theft while the objects are in transit.
Displaying replicas of prominent pieces
Some museums already have replicas, such as the plaster cast bust of Nefertiti at the Egypt Centre in Swansea. While these are amazing to look at when executed well, it just isn’t the same as looking at the real deal. The point has also been made that the real objects are needed for academia.
It seems that there is no simple answer to the question of whether all Egyptian artefacts should be returned to Egypt. Many factors have to be considered, and while there are good reasons for both sides of the argument, there an equal number of reasons against them too.
For a chance to have your say, keep an eye out for future polls at The Egyptiana Emporium!