List RulesVote up the artifacts you think should be returned as soon as possible.

Artifacts that adorn the halls and walls of museums in the Western world are not always acquired through reputable means. Some of the most famous museum exhibits and objects on display at places like the British Museum in London were taken from other countries.

From Africa to Iraq to India, leaders from these nations continue to speak out and request the return of their cultural heritage.

Kingdom of Dahomey Anthropomorphic Statues

Current Museum: Musée du quai Branly, Paris

Region Of Origin: Benin, Africa

Exhibit History: The French government under President Emmanuel Macron has made a pledge to repatriate artifacts and artworks taken during colonization. Among many objects from Africa are 26 pieces taken during the looting of the Abomey Palace in 1892. These anthropomorphic wooden statues, elaborately detailed and painted, include royal crests that represent different rulers from the Kingdom of Dahomey, which thrived between the 17th and 19th centuries in modern-day Benin.

In 2019, France and Benin signed a deal that ensures both the return of these artifacts and the French government’s financial support to build or remodel museums in Benin. Macron’s promise to return all 26 pieces by the beginning of 2021, however, was not fulfilled. Patrick Mudekereza, a museum professional in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, doubts Macron’s commitment to restitution. Mudekereza said he believes Macron is “not keeping his word.”

Burial Mask Of Ka-Nefer-Nefer

Current Museum: Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis

Region Of Origin: Saqqara, Egypt

Exhibit History: In 1951, archaeologist Mohammed Zakaria Goneim excavated the funeral mask of long-deceased Egyptian noblewoman Ka-Nefer-Nefer. Also known as “The Twice-Beautiful Ka,” Ka-Nefer-Nefer lived during the 19th Dynasty in Ancient Egypt. Made of plaster, linen, resin, glass, wood, gold, and pigment, the funerary mask is an example of New Kingdom sculpture.

In the 1970s, the Egyptian government discovered the Ka-Nefer-Nefer Mask was missing. Fast-forward two decades, and the Saint Louis Art Museum in America purchased the mask from the gallery Phoenix Ancient Art of New York for just under $500,000. When the mask became part of the museum’s permanent exhibits, Egypt cried foul, claiming it had obviously been transported out of the country under felonious circumstances and needed to be returned.

The United States government, in an unprecedented move, sued the Saint Louis Art Museum in 2011 in hopes the mask would be repatriated to Egypt. The case fell apart when US attorneys didn’t meet a filing deadline. It remains in St. Louis to this day.

Beard Of The Sphinx

Photo: British Museum / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Current Museum: British Museum, London

Region Of Origin: Giza, Egypt

Exhibition History: Constructed during ancient Egypt’s Old Kingdom as the living image of Fourth-Dynasty Pharaoh Khafre, the mystical and cherished Great Sphinx of Giza is missing an important element: its beard. Fragments of the limestone Beard of the Sphinx are actually scattered around the world, and the British Museum houses what it claims to be a “small fragment” of the iconic sculpture. According to the museum, the beard was likely added to the mythical creature later, during the 18th Dynasty.

The museum purportedly acquired the piece from Giovanni Battista Caviglia, who excavated it in 1817. Theories abound about how the beard fell off. While some contend Napoleon’s troops damaged the monument, records dating back to the 15th century mention the Great Sphinx’s missing beard. No matter how it ended up detached from its head, Egyptians want the Beard of the Sphinx returned to its original spot, where it serves as a buttress for the “somewhat unstable head.”

Hoa Hakananai’a Head

Photo: James Miles / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Current Museum: British Museum, London

Region Of Origin: Easter Island, Oceania

Exhibit History: Easter Island’s dramatic basalt statues have shown up in museums around the world since the 19th century. Known to natives as moai, these large structures in the shape of human heads were erected from 1100 to 1600 CE. Although most of the estimated 887 paleolithic monuments remain on the Polynesian island, the missing statues are a major cause for concern among the indigenous Rapa Nui.

The Hoa Hakananai’a, which translates to “lost or stolen friend,” is a popular exhibit at the British Museum, acquired after the British ship HMS Topaze removed it from the island in 1869.

In 2018, the governor of Easter Island, Tarita Alarcón Rapu, went to the British Museum in hopes of convincing its administration to return the sacred cultural artifact to its home. She said:

We all came here, but we are just the body – England people have our soul. And it is the right time to maybe send us back (the statue) for a while, so our sons can see it as I can see it.

In 2019, representatives from the British Museum traveled to Easter Island, but no further progress has been made toward repatriating Hoa Hakananai’a.

Photo: Giannis Papanikos / Shutterstock.com

Current Museum: British Museum, London

Region Of Origin: Athens, Ancient Greece

Exhibit History: “They symbolize the very foundation of Greek and European culture, one which is of universal significance. The dismembered sculptures offend our common European heritage and its perception worldwide,” Greek EU member Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou shared during a discussion about the fate of the Elgin Marbles, which were taken from the grounds of the Acropolis between 1801 and 1812.

Named after the British diplomat who oversaw their seizure and eventually sold them to his government, the Elgin Marbles date back 2,500 years to a time of great prosperity for Ancient Athens. Many of the marble friezes were taken from the Parthenon, leading some to refer to the British Museum exhibit where they now reside as the Parthenon Marbles.

Attempts to broker a deal between the British Museum and the Greeks have gone nowhere. Both UNESCO and the EU have gotten involved in the mediation, but the friezes remain on British soil for now.

Gold Crown Of Maqdala

Current Museum: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Region Of Origin: Gondar, Ethiopia

Exhibit History: In 1868, British forces captured the capital city of the Abyssinian Empire, Maqdala, in what now corresponds to Ethiopia. The British brought back with them a stockpile of royal treasures, including a three-tiered crown that was likely gifted to the Church of Our Lady of Qwesqwam from King Iyyasu II and his mother Empress Mentewab in the mid-18th century.

Gold-alloyed with silver, bronze, glass beads, and gilded copper, the regal Crown of Maqdala depicts biblical scenes of the Twelve Apostles and Four Evangelists. Since 1872, the crown has been in the possession of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

In 2007, Ethiopia lodged a formal restitution claim for all artifacts plundered during the siege of Maqdala. The British refused the request, but the Victoria and Albert Museum is offering to return some of the pieces to Africa as long-term loans.

Bust Of Ankhhaf

Current Museum: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Region Of Origin: Giza, Egypt

Exhibit History: limestone bust of Ankhhaf was unearthed by a Harvard University expedition around Giza, Egypt, in 1927. Dating back to the 20th century BCE, the sculpture pays tribute to a man who was likely the son of King Sneferu. The bust was found in Ankhhaf’s tomb, the largest in Giza’s Eastern Cemetery.

Even though the bust was acquired legally, the contract between Harvard and the Egyptian government stipulated that it should have gone to the Cairo Museum when the American research team was done with it. That never happened, and the bust of Ankhhaf landed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where it remains to this day.

The bust is among the items archaeologist Zahi Hawass is seeking to repatriate for the Grand Egyptian Museum. Hoping to avoid legal fees and drawn-out court struggles, he has made repeated calls for the voluntary returns of Egypt’s treasures.

Priam’s Treasure

Current Museum: Pushkin Museum, Moscow

Region Of Origin: Hissarlik, Turkey

Exhibit History: German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann devoted his career to finding the remains of Troy, made famous by Homer’s Iliad. In 1871, Schliemann excavated the Turkish city of Hisarlik, where he found evidence to deem it the ancient site of Troy. Among his findings was a trove of ornamental gold jewelry Schliemann named Priam’s Treasure after the infamous king of Troy.

Schliemann managed to take the relics out of Turkey, despite the Ottoman Empire’s efforts to obtain them, and brought them to Germany. Priam’s Treasure was displayed in multiple museums in both Germany and England through WWII. After Germany was defeated in 1945, Soviet troops took Priam’s Treasure. For decades, the USSR denied swiping the priceless bangles and pendants. In 1993, after the fall of the USSR, the Russian government finally admitted the treasure was in its possession. In 1996, Priam’s Treasure debuted at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

German officials have vociferously appealed to the Russians for the return of Priam’s Treasure, but it’s the Turkish who insist they deserve to see the items on Anatolian soil, where they originated. “The Germans have demanded them back, but we say they’re ours, and we should have them back,” Turkish parliament member Serdal Kuyucuoglu said in 2018. “It’s a long story that will go on for many years, but first we must halt the theft of these objects.”

Nefertiti Bust

Photo: Philip Pikart / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Current Museum: Neues Museum, Berlin

Region Of Origin: Thutmose, Ancient Egypt

Exhibit History: In 1912, a German archaeological mission headed by Egyptologist Ludwig Borchardt visited Cairo, where the group made a deal with the Egyptian government to procure some of the artifacts found in ​​Tell el-Amarna, which was built by Pharaoh Akhenaten in the 14th century BCE. Among the items brought back to Germany was the stucco bust of Akhenaten’s wife, Nefertiti, found in the workshop of the ancient Egyptian sculptor Thutmose.

Berlin’s Neues Museum debuted the Nefertiti Bust in 1925. The Egyptian government responded by declaring a ban on all German archaeological missions until the bust was returned. Nearly 100 years later, the bust remains in Germany. The German government has even passed a law that labels any artifact in the country’s territory for more than 25 years a national treasure – no matter how it was acquired.

Archaeologist Zahi Hawass has used his platform as Egypt’s former antiquities minister to plead with the German government to return the sculpture. “Nefertiti’s head came out of [Egypt] illegally, and I call for its return to be seen by Egyptians at the inauguration of the Great Egyptian Museum,” he said in 2018 while speaking in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Benin Bronzes

Current Museum: British Museum, London

Region Of Origin: Southern Nigeria, Africa

Exhibit History: More than 3,000 objects known collectively as the Benin Bronzes were taken from the Kingdom of Benin, located in what is now the southern part of Nigeria, in 1897 by British troops. The plundering of these artifacts was the culmination of rising tensions between Benin and the outside force trying to occupy it.

Some of the priceless gems brought back from Africa were loaned to the British Museum, while others were sold around Europe to institutions and private investors. The British Museum still displays a series of brass and bronze plaques, some of which date back to the 16th century.

The Benin Royal Court has made several public statements over the years calling for European countries to repatriate the Benin Bronzes. Although staff from the British Museum have traveled to Africa to meet with the royal court, no plan has been made to return these antiquities to Africa. Germany set the tone for forthcoming mediations by officially announcing in 2021 that it will return all of its bronzes to Nigeria.

Rosetta Stone

Photo: Reklamer / Shutterstock.com

Current Museum: British Museum, London

Region Of Origin: Memphis, Ancient Egypt

Exhibit History: One of the most important discoveries of all time, the Rosetta Stone dates back to 196 BCE. This 1,680-pound slab of black basalt contains a dynastic decree written in three languages: Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Demotic language, and Greek. Discovered by French troops under Napoleon in 1799, the Rosetta Stone became an overnight sensation as the missing puzzle piece needed to decipher hieroglyphics.

When the British overtook the French regime in Egypt two years later in 1801, the Rosetta Stone was quickly hauled back to the UK. Since 1802, it has remained a center point of the British Museum’s collection – despite Egypt’s many efforts to reclaim what it considers a stolen artifact.

“We believe that [the] Rosetta Stone didn’t leave Egypt legally. It was taken through imperialism,” Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass told The Seattle Times in 2005. Negotiations continue between the British Museum and Egyptian officials.

“It would be great to have the Rosetta Stone back in Egypt, but this is something that will still need a lot of discussion and cooperation,” Tarek Tawfik, Ph.D., director of the forthcoming Grand Egyptian Museum, shared with The Evening Standard in 2018.

Babylonian Ishtar Gate

Current Museum: Pergamon Museum, Berlin

Region Of Origin: Just south of Baghdad, Iraq

Exhibit History: Dating back to the days of Babylon, the capital of ancient Mesopotamia, the Ishtar Gate was constructed on the north side of the city around 575 BCE under the order of King Nebuchadnezzar II. In the first few decades of the 20th century, German excavators took the remains of the 50-foot gate to their country and reconstructed it in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum, where it remains today.

Debuting in 1930, the Ishtar Gate is considered one of the museum’s biggest draws. Iraqis, however, want to see the dramatic brick barrier returned. “I have anger, but what can we do?” Iraqi archaeologist Mohammed Aziz Selman al-Ibrahim told The Guardian in 2002. “Just, I appeal to the German government to give back our antiquities to Iraq.”

The rest of the treasures lifted from Babylon are scattered in museums all over the Western world, including the lion-filled friezes lining Babylon’s Procession Way.

Koh-i-Noor Diamond

Photo: Cyril Davenport / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Current Museum: The Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, Tower of London

Region Of Origin: Kollur Mine, India

Exhibit History: The massive Koh-i-Noor diamond, which now rests at the center of the British Queen Mother’s Crown, dates back to medieval India. The first written record of the gem is from 1628, where it’s mentioned as one of the focal points of Mughal ruler Shah Jahan’s commissioned royal throne known as the Peacock Throne. One hundred years later, Persia under Nader Shah invaded India, and the Koh-i-Noor ended up in what is now Afghanistan. In 1813, it was returned to India and into the hands of Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh.

After Singh’s passing, the envious British monarchy waited out a series of unbending rulers until 1849, when it convinced a young Indian boy next in line for the throne to sign the Treaty of Lahore, which entrusted the British with both the priceless diamond and control of India.

Under the ownership of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, the Koh-i-Noor was polished down to half its size to make it refract light more brilliantly. Eventually, the diamond became part of the Crown Jewels housed in the Tower of London, and its most famous modern appearance came in 1937 on top of the Queen Mother’s head.

Legal scholars are divided about whether or not India has a right to reclaim the Koh-i-Noor diamond, and the British government has made it clear it has no plans to voluntarily repatriate its appropriated royal jewel.

Hemiunu Statue

Current Museum: Pelizaeus Museum, Hildesheim, Germany

Region Of Origin: Giza, Ancient Egypt

Exhibit History: German archaeologist Hermann Junker stumbled upon the looted tomb of Hemiunu in 1912. Believed to be the architect of the Great Pyramid at Giza, Hemiunu lived during the Old Kingdom in Egypt, which dates back to the 20th century BCE. Junker and his crew brought a life-size, severely damaged statue of Hemiunu back to Germany. Taken legally on behalf of the German collector Wilhelm Pelizaeus, the statue was restored before it became a permanent feature of Hildesheim’s Pelizaeus Museum.

The sitting statue, which includes hieroglyphics at Hemiunu’s feet, is one of the cultural artifacts Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass wants returned to Egypt. So far, the Hildesheim has not agreed to repatriate one of its most prized possessions, but it did agree to loan the statute to Egypt for the opening of its Grand Egyptian Museum.

Hildesheim Museum officials say the statue ended up in Germany because of its poor condition. “The head was completely fragmented, and the Egyptians didn’t want the statue,” staff have said.

The Tsavo Lions

Current Museum: Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago

Region Of Origin: Tsavo River, Kenya

Exhibit History: During the height of the British colonization of Africa in the late 19th century, a railway was planned, spanning from Uganda to the Indian Ocean at Kilindini Harbour in eastern Kenya. In March 1898, Britain commissioned a railway bridge over southern Kenya’s Tsavo River. For many months, the large crew of mainly Indian rail workers was terrorized by a pair of man-eating lions.

These maneless males were eventually taken out by British civil engineer Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson. He took them home, eventually selling the lions to the Field Museum in Chicago in 1925, where they remain to this day.

In 2021, Kenya made a public request that the stuffed lions be returned to the country as part of its new Museum of Heroism. As Mzalendo Kibunja explained to The Telegraph, “We think that those are our heroes. They are heroes because they were protecting their territory against the penetration of Africa by foreigners.”

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