British Museum in Talks with Four Governments Over returning Artifacts

The British Museum is in talks with four unnamed governments about returning artifacts.
The British Museum is in talks with four unnamed governments about returning artifacts. Credit: Kashif Haque. CC BY 2.0/flickr

The British Museum chiefs are in talks with four unnamed foreign governments regarding the return of certain artifacts in its collection – after George Osborne negotiated a deal to loan the Elgin Marbles back to Greece.

The British Museum is holding private discussions with four foreign governments about the return of artifacts in its collection, though the museum will not reveal what artifacts have been discussed.

This comes after reports of a ‘negotiated deal’ between the museum’s chairman, George Osborne, and the Greek government last year which may see the Elgin Marbles loaned to Greece as part of an exchange.

The east pediment of the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum.
The east pediment of the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum. Credit: wallyg. CC BY-2.0/flickr

Under UK law, the British Museum is not permitted to return any of its artifacts except for under very unique circumstances. However, in recent years, items have been given back to their country of origin on so-called ‘long term loans.’

The Daily Telegraph reported that it has seen documents showing that since 2015 the museum has received 12 separate formal requests for items to be returned. Four of these have come from foreign governments using ‘confidential diplomatic channels’ rather than using the media’s spotlight such as was done by the Greek government.

Talks between the governments and the museum are ongoing and the British Museum will not reveal what artifacts were spoken about. The museum said it would not share that information because it “would have a detrimental effect on its relationship with the states in question at a time when communications are ongoing,” as reported by the Daily Mail.

It did however confirm the Rosetta Stone, one of the most precious artifacts in the museum’s collection which was key in translating Egyptian hieroglyphs, was not among the four items privately requested for return.

Artifacts That Have Been Loaned by the British Museum or Are Waiting to Be Loaned

In recent years a number of artifacts have been returned to their country of origin on loan agreements, including an agreement reached in January this year to loan a collection of gold items, known as Ghana’s ‘crown jewels’, back to Ghana.

The agreement to loan back these items, known as the Asante gold, forms part of a three-year loan deal with the option to extend for a further three years.

A similar deal is reportedly being worked out with Greece which may see the Elgin Marbles returned to the Mediterranean country as part of an exchange for other artifacts from Greece to “fill the void”, Greece’s culture minister Lina Mendoni said.

The Elgin Marbles have been a source of tension between Greece and the UK for a long time. The marbles were moved from Athens between 1801 to 1812 by the Early of Elgin, who had plans to set up a private museum before they were sent to the British Museum.

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