200 years ago, French archaeologist Champollion spent more than ten years successfully deciphering the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone, and Egyptology was born. Ancient Egypt, which has been silent for thousands of years, is now alive.
To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone, the Egyptian government will hold a series of celebrations in September 2022. However, embarrassingly, during the celebration, the “Rosetta Stone” displayed at the Museum of Egyptian Civilization was just a replica. His real body is currently in the collection of the British Museum.
From being excavated by Napoleon’s army in 1799 to being acquired by the British Museum in 1802, the Rosetta Stone never returned to Egypt.
There is no way to rent your own cultural relics
For more than 200 years, the Egyptians have never stopped pursuing the Rosetta Stone. On the occasion of the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September this year, the crimes committed by Britain during the colonial era were heatedly discussed in the world. People from many countries even launched a joint petition, demanding that Britain return its looted cultural relics.
The Egyptian people are not far behind. Under the leadership of the former Minister of Culture of Egypt, archaeologist Zahi Hawass and other celebrities, more than 2,500 elites jointly signed a petition requesting the British Museum to return the Rosetta Stone to Egypt. “The confiscation of the Rosetta Stone and other artefacts is a violation of Egyptian cultural property and identity and is a direct result of cultural colonial violence against Egypt’s cultural heritage,” the joint petition claims. Moral principles rather than profit, and support an excellent opportunity to heal the wounds caused by colonial powers.”
Facing the demands of the Egyptian people, the British Museum, as always, is perfunctory, insisting that the Egyptian government has never formally requested the return of the Rosetta Stone, saying : “The British Museum attaches great importance to the active cooperation with colleagues from all over Egypt.” It’s fine if you don’t return it. In 2003, when the Egyptian government offered to “lease” the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum for 3 to 6 months, the latter gave it to the British Museum as “Rosetta Stone”. The Seta Stele is the treasure of the town hall, and I don’t want to disappoint the millions of tourists who visit the museum every year” as an excuse to refuse.
George II established the British Museum on the basis of the collection donated by Sloane.
The British Museum
Hans Sloane, founder of the British Museum
The Rosetta Stone is not the only cultural relic that the British Museum refuses to return. The list of cultural relics that the British Museum refuses to return to other countries is too numerous to mention. New Zealand’s request for the return of Maori head portraits, Easter Island’s request for the return of the moai statues, and Ethiopia’s request for the return of a large number of religious relics were all rejected by the British Museum without exception.
Even Greece, which has a good relationship with Britain and is still an ally, has never stopped pursuing the Parthenon sculpture from the British Museum for more than 30 years, and it is still fruitless.
Sincerity of Benin Bronze Ware Inspection and Return
The British Museum houses rare treasures from all over the world. With more than 8 million items in its permanent collection, it is one of the largest and most comprehensive museums in existence.
Since its establishment in 1753, the British Museum has witnessed hundreds of years of British colonial glory and is also a place to showcase its colonial crimes. “The British Museum, which was born and raised in imperial and colonial practices, is under the scrutiny of the world,” said Egyptian writer Ahdaf Suayf, who served as a trustee of the British Museum.
According to repatriation campaigners, Most of the collections in the British Museum are accumulated from years of plundering of a quarter of the world when the British colonized it. Aisha Ossori, a well-known African cultural repatriation person, once said: “The museum is definitely a tool to help shape the story of colonialism and conquest and to legitimize the conquest.”
The British Museum, its growth is not only closely related to colonial plunder, but also its birth It is also inseparable from the latter. The founder of the British Museum, Hans Sloan, also had a “colonial plunder” in his fortune – most of his collections in the British Museum are related to the British colonization of Jamaica.
Sloan established himself in Jamaica in 1687 as a physician to the Duke of Albemarle, Governor of the Colony of Jamaica. With the help of local slaves, Sloan collected tens of thousands of various rare treasures. In particular, Sloan later married the widow of a local plantation owner. With the help of the latter’s strong financial resources and power, Sloan’s “collection” business became stronger and stronger.
During his lifetime, Sloan donated to King George II his personal collection of approximately 71,000 items from his colonial explorations. The collections include artifacts from Egypt, Sudan, Greece, Rome, the ancient Near and Far East, and the Americas, among others. In 1753, George II established the British Museum on the basis of the collection donated by Sloan.
In March 2021, the University of Aberdeen will return a bronze statue of Benin to Nigeria
In order to get rid of the entanglement of the claimant country, on some issues, the British Museum even distorted the original appearance of history.
Although Sloan is the founder of the British Museum, in August 2020, during the “Black Lives Matter” anti-racism movement, in order to draw a line with its colonial roots, the British Museum removed a statue of Sloan’s prototype from the Removed from the eye-catching display position of the museum.
In fact, whether or not the statue of Sloan is removed will not cover up the crimes committed by the British colonists. Among them, the Benin bronzes scattered around the world always tell the crimes of the British colonists. In 1897, the British army attacked the city of Benin. In
February of that year, thousands of British soldiers under the pretext of revenge, Invade Benin City. In less than half a month, the city was occupied by him. Subsequently, the British army launched a frantic looting of the houses, religious shrines, palaces and other places in the city. Herbert, a British officer who participated in the battle, once recorded the actions of his companions: “He now walks around with a chisel and a hammer, knocking off the brass statues and collecting all kinds of rubbish as spoils of war.”
After the looting, most of the buildings in Benin City were burned by the British army and lost forever in the long river of history. After the war, more than 2,500 precious works of art and religious relics were looted to the UK by the British army, most of which were collected by the British Museum.
Today, these cultural relics are collectively referred to as “Benin bronzes”. They are held by 160 museums and institutions around the world and are considered among the most culturally significant artifacts looted in Africa in the 19th century. Therefore, it can be said that the ultimate destination of the Benin bronzes scattered around the world is a weather vane to test whether the West is sincerely returning the stolen cultural relics from other countries.
On October 27, 2021, 26 bronze statues of Benin were returned to the Musée du Cabranly in France
In the past ten or twenty years, more and more countries have asked the West to return cultural relics looted during the colonial era. In recent years, France seems to have been at the forefront when it comes to the return of cultural relics from other countries. In November 2017, during his visit to Africa, French President Macron admitted that most of the cultural heritage from several African countries is in France.
He also promised that in the next five years, efforts should be made to create conditions for the temporary or permanent return of African heritage to African countries. Immediately afterwards, the French Presidential Palace added: “African heritage can no longer be a prisoner of European museums.” On November 9, 2021, France officially returned 26 cultural relics to the Republic of Benin, fulfilling part of Macron’s promise. In Macron’s promise, more than 90,000 African cultural relics in museums across France will be processed one after another.
Driven by Macron, the West seems to have set off a wave of returning cultural relics from other countries. In March 2019, the Rijksmuseum held separate talks with Sri Lanka and Indonesia on the return of cultural relics – the museum also described the failure to return stolen cultural relics as a “disgrace”.
In June 2021, the Metropolitan Museum of New York announced the return of three Benin bronzes to Nigeria; in October 2021, Germany signed an agreement to return more than 1,100 Benin bronzes from its domestic museums to Nigeria; in February 2022, A bronze rooster and a bronze head of a king among the Benin bronze wares were returned to Nigeria from two British universities respectively…
However, in the wave of returning Benin bronze wares, the British Museum, as the largest collection of the cultural relics, refused to return them and Said that at most it could only “loan” the Benin bronzes to Nigeria. In fact, as early as before, the British Museum made it clear that it has no plan to return the stolen cultural relics.
Steal the beam and change the “name”
In addition to explicitly refusing to return the stolen cultural relics, in order to get rid of the entanglement of the claimant country, the British Museum even distorted the original history on some issues.
Since Greece’s formal request to the British Museum to return the Parthenon sculpture was rejected in 1983, the two sides have been involved in decades of disputes over the issue of “return or not”.
From 1801 to 1812, Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, stripped about 250 feet of friezes, 21 statues, and 15 panels from the Parthenon and shipped them back to the UK, where they were finally sold to Great Britain. museum.
For these Parthenon sculptures collected in the British Museum, the British shamelessly call them the Elgin Marbles. Lord Elgin and the British Museum, as well as their supporters, argue that the sculpture was acquired legally.
However, Greece believed that Lord Elgin’s move was illegal because he did not have the consent of the Greeks. Many historians have said through research that Lord Elgin’s removal of the Parthenon sculptures has far exceeded the scope of the Ottoman authorities’ acquiescence at the time.
In early 2022, Jonathan Williams, deputy curator of the British Museum, even argued: “Most of the friezes were actually removed from the ruins around the Parthenon, not from the Parthenon building. Sawed off.”
British-Nigerian historian David Olusoga criticized that on the issue of returning cultural relics, Britain often lacks the necessary empathy, and they cannot understand why the colonies are so eager for stolen cultural relics. Returning to China, they are even less aware of the deep national sentiments contained in those stolen cultural relics—their theft is a symbol of the incompleteness of those countries and a shame for those nations.
Parthenon sculptures on display at the British Museum
The British Museum Act prohibits British museums from donating any cultural relics to other countries or institutions.
In order to oppose the British Museum’s taking the Parthenon sculpture as its own, some UNESCO staff said: “This is a symbol of sovereignty. It is completely wrong to place the Greek national symbol in the British Museum. The crown jewels are like Greece.”
According to the latest poll by YouGov, a British organization, 59% of respondents believe that the Elgin Marbles belong to Greece, compared with 37% in 2014.
For decades, whether it was Greece asking for Parthenon sculptures, Nigeria asking for Benin bronzes, or Egypt asking for the return of the Rosetta Stone, the British Museum generally used British law to prevaricate these claimants—the 1963 The British Museum Act prohibits British museums from donating any cultural relics to other countries or institutions.
Today, British legislators, like France and Germany, have not amended the law specifically for the return of African cultural relics. In addition, the British Museum and its supporters often refuse to return cultural relics under the pretext of security. They believe that African countries currently do not have sufficient security facilities to properly house these cultural relics; if these cultural relics are returned to Africa, they will face the risk of being stolen again. The British Museum recently warned through the media: “If cultural relics are returned at will, we will pay for the carelessness of a generation.”
However, in order to meet the wave of cultural relics returning to Africa, African countries are actively making preparations. The Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar, Senegal opened in 2018; the National Museum of History in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Javett Art Center at the University of Pretoria in South Africa have also actively launched related new projects in recent years; the African Union has even announced plans Build the Great African Museum in Algeria, North Africa, by 2023 with a budget of $57 million.
The return of cultural relics is itself a symbol of strong penance. In today’s globalized world, in order to better establish future multilateral relations, Europe needs to start a new dialogue with Africa on past mistakes, and the return of cultural relics is a good opportunity for dialogue. Therefore, the British Museum should not be too selfish on this issue.