April 28, 2006

"Right of Return" for Museum Artifacts

Turkey has decided to build a replica of the Zeus temple at the Pergamum site.

I remember one summer visiting the Pergamum museum in Berlin with my mentor Gene Boring, and then a few weeks later I was in Turkey at Bergama. I stared at the gap on the edge of the mountain and thought to myself, "I know what goes here."

I had a similar experience a previous summer where I spent time in the British museum, looking at the friezes from the Athens Parthenon, and then at the end of that same summer being in Athens, staring at the stripped temple. Also that same summer I went to the Antiquities museum in Cairo where the first thing you see upon entering the building is a picture and a plaque depicting an artifact which they say should be here on display but isn't--the Rosetta Stone. (I do keep hearing rumors that the friezes are being returned.)

Of course, my initial feelings are "What a shame they can't return the artifacts to their original locations." But, it isn't as simple as all that. For one, many of these artifacts exist today in the shape they do because they were heisted out of their original locales. I'm just saying, it's not a simple issue; though it does seem such large and significant pieces ought to have a "right of return".

(Hat Tip to Jim Davila for this article)

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