Museums should be allowed to keep their artefacts
One of the best jobs I’ve had was at the British Museum in London.
Trapped behind the counter of the downstairs gift shop it wasn’t selling over-priced plaster replicas that I enjoyed the most but the two hours a week spent roaming the museum as part of my training.
The Elgin Marbles, Egyptian mummy tombs and the glittering Cartier jewellery collection were among my favourites.
For most of us museums are our first and perhaps only taste of what other cultures and countries have to offer.
Even if you enjoy reading about history it’s another thing altogether to look with your own eyes at a statue, clay bowl or Mummy tomb- just as it was when it was first discovered.
I love that in the context of a museum even discarded everyday objects like wooden cooking implements or woven baskets tell a story about ancient civilisation. Not to mention the opportunity it provides to reflect on the way we live today.
So why are so many countries asking for their treasures back?
This week Egypt joined a league of nations that includes China, Italy and Greece in making a claim that some of their artefacts be returned.
According to a report by The Australian Egypt’s demanded the Louvre return decorative fragments from a tomb excavated in the Valley of the Kings. France has agreed if it can be established that the artefacts were actually stolen.
But why should France give the pieces back?
Museums were created for enjoyment and education. Even the ancient Eqyptian Pharoahs built rooms for their most valuable discoveries for public viewing.
And the great European museums like the Louvre or The British Museum were designed as places of reflection, to record humanity’s achievements and the evolution of civilisation.
What good is a museum without artefacts? And what’s a collection stripped bare because the place where you found something decides they want it back.
Time magazine reported that ‘source’ countries like Italy and Greece consider antiquities national property ‘essential to the construction of the modern nations’.
But isn’t that just a little outdated? People of all cultures are spread throughout the world, aern’t these artefacts just as important as symbols of humanity.
Italy and Greece have both waged vigorous campaigns against museums in America and the United Kingdom.
But I think they’re all missing the point.
Museums are about people and as Richard Lacayo writes it’s the museum goers- who get to see some of the world’s greatest treasures without having to afford to visit the country- that have the most to lose.
What better way to teach tolerance and understanding of difference than to share the history of a culture with as many people as possible.
Leave them the way they are.
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