Why Artefacts Abroad Should Be Repatriated

Today, many cultural treasures are discovered and exhibited at museums worldwide. Some are in the places where they are found or created, or both, such as the Mask of Tutankhamen’s mummy in Egypt, while others are maintained in the different places such as the Parthenon Marbles in England. Although many cultural treasures away from their places of origin are legally traded, there are some of them which were robbed or plundered during the colonial period or war. For instance, the statue of the goddess Aphrodite was returned to Italy from the United States in 2007 although it was traded within the range of laws. Meanwhile, many stolen or looted cultural treasures have not yet returned to the place where they were originated because there are some people who claim that replacement would cause many problems and does not have proper reasons. However, cultural treasures should be repatriated because they would be the resources of sightseeing in countries of origin and this placement would help tourists understand the reason why the cultural treasures are created in a certain place; moreover, some of them were illegally taken away from the places where the artefacts were created.

First of all, if precious cultural treasures are returned to poor regions where they were originated, it will help economy of the regions without doubt. To be more specific, this kind of artefacts would strongly attract tourists and they would be valuable assets of tourism. Fintan O’toole states that artefacts are resources of economy which fascinate tourists and they are leading subjects which make the places more famous where the cultural treasures are maintained. Therefore, if artefacts are retrieved to the places of origin, they will economically help museums there and bring revenue of the countries with tourist attraction. And yet there are people who claim that displaying artefacts abroad is a good publicity of the countries where they were created. Karen Pearson claims that “artefacts housed in foreign museums are the best possible advertising for tourism, which plays a major role in many developing countries economies” (2008, p. 12). She thinks those who visited a museum in London, for example, will also visit the one in Egypt because they will be inspired by famous Egyptian artefacts in the British Museum. However, most tourists are only eager to appreciate artefacts which are the most famed. Usually, those who are not as interested in artefacts as experts will not plan to visit minor countries only to find further information. Thus, exhibiting artefacts in accessible countries does not always publicize tourism of developing countries.

In addition, cultural treasures should be located in the place where they were created in order to be deeply and accurately understood by tourists. According to The Ethiopian Herald (as cited in Waking Up The West: Ethiopian Newspapers Call For The Return Of Stolen Artworks, 2008), Ethiopia had to retrieve the Obelisk of Axum from Italy because it was the symbol of Ethiopian identity. This case shows that it is meaningless for the artefacts to be possessed by countries where they were not originated because most cultural treasures are so significant that they often symbolize the identity of countries of origin. In contrast, it has been argued that artefacts should be accessible for everyone in the world since it is common human heritage. Pearson insists that everyone can appreciate Sudanese golden Kushite jewellery since they are held by museums in Berlin and London (2008). She asserts very few tourists will go to Sudan and its accessibility could be ruined if they were in Sudan. Nevertheless, the artefacts do not have to stay in a certain place forever. Ferenc Kocsis proposes that museums can lend their collections to any other places thanks to safe transportation enabled by modern technology. He originally states it in order to insist the completely opposite theory, but it can be applied to this way. The artefacts should lie in the places where they were originated, but they can be also accessible to everyone by temporary display by transfer to other museum. Moreover, museums in developing countries can turn a profit when they loan artefacts to another museum, helping economy of developing countries.

Lastly, some cultural treasures must be repatriated because they were looted by the great powers unlawfully. Some famous museums in countries which formerly adapted to imperialism possess many invaluable artifacts stolen during war. For instance, according to UNESCO Voices (2007, January), British military robbed more than 3,000 cultural treasures during invasion of Benin in 1879. Moreover, artefacts from China, Cyprus, Iraq, Cambodia and Libya were illegally traded, stolen or destroyed. Mainly, museums in the United States and Europe have these stolen artefacts and this violates international laws. The opposition insists that “stolen” artefacts are just a fraction of the cultural treasures. Pearson points out that the perception that most artefacts in foreign museums were stolen from Third World is chiefly based on emotional factor than truth (2008). She asserts that most of artefacts were legally traded and brought a lot of money to developing countries. However, there are many artefacts which were looted from occupied areas by developed countries and illegality cannot be allowed because these cases are relatively minority. Theo-Ben Gurirab, president of the 188-member UN General Assembly, emphasises that countries of origin’s interests in the artefacts does not extinguish in process of time (as cited in Return Stolen Art Treasures, 2007). Thus, artefacts plundered from the places of origin should be retrieved despite the period they have been maintained in foreign museums even if those which were illegally carried out are a small number of examples.

In summary, the artefacts which are possessed by foreign museums should be repatriated to the place of origin because they will be strong resources of tourism while they help income of museums there to increase and support economy of developing countries. Furthermore, it is more proper for those who appreciate them to understand the identity of people in the place where they were created. In addition, there are some artefacts which represent the identity of the nation and must be possessed by the nation itself. Although the accessibility to artefacts in marginal places in Third World sometimes matters a lot, museums in the country of origin can loan the artefacts to more popular country as they get paid for rental. Last but not least, although many years passed since the artefacts were plundered, illegality must be nevertheless corrected if they were looted unlawfully. All this suggests that developing countries and museums there will certainly prove to their advantage to recover artefacts especially by helping their economy.



Kocsis, F. (8 August 2008). ‘Stolen’ treasures better off in the West, says African curator. Le Monde Diplomatique – English Edition. Page A2.

O’toole, F. (2009). Cultural treasures that are stolen goods. The Irish Times.

Pearson, K. (November 2008). Honour amongst thieves. The European Monthly. Pages 12-14.

Return Stolen Art Treasures To The South. (January 2007). UNESCO VOICES. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Pages 46-47.

Waking up the West: Ethiopian Newspapers Call for the Return of Stolen Artworks. (2008). Digital Easel: A Compendium of Art News.


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