Should antiquities go "home?"

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Should antiquities go "home?"

Postby portia » Sun Sep 18, 2011 5:10 pm

They are all over the place: Elgin Marbles in the British Museum, important statues in the Getty. There are important, culture defining objects that are resting someplace else but in the culture they help define. Should they be repatriated?

How important to the answer is the relative stability of where the objects came from and where they are now? How about the availability of resources to protect the objects? If an object is important to a whole region's culture, is it fair to keep it where it cannot be preserved, or seen, or studied as well as if it were kept elsewhere?

In Athens, I got an earful about the "Elgin" Marbles, how they were stolen, etc. But if they had stayed on the Parthenon, instead of in the British Museum, would they even exist, now? What if the cultural object is related to a religion that is not favored, now, in the place where it came from? Like those statues of Buddha that the Taliban blew up?
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Postby vison » Sun Sep 18, 2011 5:23 pm

I think there comes a point where you have to stop going back. We could go back to Cain and Abel, or the sack of Rome.

I don't know what the cutoff should be, though.
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Postby Frelga » Sun Sep 18, 2011 5:26 pm

I don't know. On the one hand, yes, I see portia's point. On the other, courts don't usually look kindly at thieves whose defense is, "Well, the owner just wasn't taking good care of it, and the roof was leaking over it, so I thought it would be better off in my house."
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Postby Swordsman_Of_The_Tower » Sun Sep 18, 2011 5:53 pm

Agree with Frelga. Sure they are well protected in say, Britain. But at some point, they get viewed as some people as trophies of when Europe went to and fro taking what they wanted.


Then again I had a prof. in college who was doing her dissertation on colonial Mexican clothing blah blah. The archives in Seville were way, way better then those in Mexico City. Mexico City did what they could with what they had/have, but had priceless documents and records glued into books, not climate controlled, no digitization. However those weren't really important pieces of native Mexican art or culture, they were church and colonial records.


Personally I think Mexico and Peru should ask Spain for their silver and gold back :D

If the country really, really wants them back. They should be returned. Would Brits feel a bit of annoyance at Shakespeare's works, or something equivalent sitting in Katmandu?
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Postby LalaithUrwen » Sun Sep 18, 2011 6:14 pm

I do see both sides of this issue, but I tend to lean toward vison's view. You can't regress infinitely.

What is nice, I think, is when countries return, on their own, culturally significant antiquities to the home countries.
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Postby Hobbituk » Mon Sep 19, 2011 8:14 am

Swordsman_Of_The_Tower wrote:If the country really, really wants them back. They should be returned. Would Brits feel a bit of annoyance at Shakespeare's works, or something equivalent sitting in Katmandu?


I'd suggest part of the problem is there is no equivalent because Britain hasn't been invaded in a thousand years. The closest thing I can think of is the return of The Stone of Scone to Scotland in 1996.

If Britain ever returns the Elgin Marbles it will be at a time when it is politically advantageous. Which is sort of fitting, really.
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Postby ILvEowyn » Mon Sep 19, 2011 1:11 pm

Well, there is the London Bridge, which is in Arizona, but that was bought right? How do Brits feel about that?

I know that Egpyt is very protective of its artifacts and invests quite a lot of time and study into them. On the other hand, if a place like say, Somalia, has a national treasure that's in imminent danger of destruction because of the instability of the country, I don't see a problem with housing it in a place like Britain for a little while.

Now that I think about, the crown jewels of the Austro-Hungarian Empire turned up in Fort Knox in the U.S. long after the empire dissolved. Wikipedia Article

The Holy Crown has had a lively history, having been stolen, hidden, lost, recovered, and taken abroad many times. During the Árpád dynasty (1000 - 1301), the coronation insignia were kept in the coronation city of Székesfehérvár. Later the crown was housed in one of three locations: Visegrád (in Pest county); Pozsony (present-day Bratislava); or Buda. In 1805-6 the Crown was kept for about three months in the castle at Munkacs (now Mukachevo, Ukraine). Lajos Kossuth took the crown and the coronation jewels with him after the collapse of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 and buried them in a wooden box in a willow forest, near Orşova in Transylvania. They were subsequently dug up and returned to the royal castle in Buda in 1853.

At the end of the Second World War the crown jewels were recovered in Mattsee, Austria on 4 May 1945 by the U.S. 86th Infantry Division.[7] The crown jewels were transported to Western Europe and eventually given to the United States Army by the Hungarian Crown Guard for safekeeping from the Soviet Union.[8] For much of the Cold War the crown was held at the United States Bullion Depository (Fort Knox, Kentucky) alongside the bulk of America's gold reserves and other priceless historical items. After undergoing extensive historical research to verify the crown as genuine, it was returned to the people of Hungary by order of U.S. President Jimmy Carter on 6 January 1978. Most current academic knowledge about Hungarian royal garments originates from this modern research. Following substantial U.S. political debate, the agreement to return the jewels contained many conditions to ensure the people of Hungary, rather than its Communist government, took possession of the jewels.[9]
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Postby Hobbituk » Mon Sep 19, 2011 2:31 pm

ILvEowyn wrote:Well, there is the London Bridge, which is in Arizona, but that was bought right? How do Brits feel about that?


I think I'm right in saying they couldn't care less. After all, the bridge was in need of replacing and so there is a newer more fit-for-purpose one standing there now.

Also, there's a silly myth told by rubbish tour guides in London that the chap who bought it thought he was actually buying the much more impressive Tower Bridge. Not at all true, but its a much told story which is popular among tourists because it perpetuates the 'dumb American' stereotype.
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Postby heliona » Mon Sep 19, 2011 4:45 pm

:D

I think we have enough historical things left in Britain to not worry about a rather boring bridge. :D That we probably wanted to get rid of anyway. ;)
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Postby vison » Mon Sep 19, 2011 5:19 pm

The guy who bought it knew he wasn't buying Tower Bridge, but I know a few people who went to Arizona expecting to see it. :)
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Postby Democritus » Sun Sep 25, 2011 4:15 pm

Having been to the Parthenon museum three weeks ago and having once worked for the British Library which also requires an act of parliament to return an item I can say that Lord Elgin was a vandal and a thief and there is no excuse to not return the marbles and all the other treasures ripped off the side of the Parthenon. The British Museum is a disgraceful repository of the worst of the English Imperial era. Personally I'd shut it down.
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Postby Hobbituk » Mon Sep 26, 2011 3:50 am

Democritus wrote:Having been to the Parthenon museum three weeks ago and having once worked for the British Library which also requires an act of parliament to return an item I can say that Lord Elgin was a vandal and a thief and there is no excuse to not return the marbles and all the other treasures ripped off the side of the Parthenon. The British Museum is a disgraceful repository of the worst of the English Imperial era. Personally I'd shut it down.


'English Imperial era'? British, thankyou.

Elgin was Scottish after all.
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Postby portia » Mon Sep 26, 2011 7:36 am

I enjoyed looking at the Elgin Marbles, as I enjoyed looking at the Rosetta Stone (an image of which is on the T-Shirt I am wearing). I enjoyed looking at the caryatids on the Erectheion, too. One of those is in the British Museum, I believe.

I would have enjoyed looking at the statues in Afghanistan. (I would have liked to see the Sphinx's nose, but the statue was too big to remove and save).

Is it worth risking destroying unique cultural objects, if that is the likely result of repatriating them? In many instances that choice does not need to be made, but in some important ones, it does.

Democritus: Does it really matter who was a vandal in 1812, or how he got the Ottoman government's permission? A lot of actions from that time, the results of which we support, would not do well if examined, now. I am more concerned with the survival of the cultural object than who holds it.
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Postby Swordsman_Of_The_Tower » Mon Sep 26, 2011 8:34 pm

Mexico is still waiting on a check from the EU for that silver btw. They'll be nice and not even charge interest on a 500 year loan.

Bolivia says it'll take payment in bottled water shipments until the next ice age brings their glacial water sources back.
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Postby Jnyusa » Tue Sep 27, 2011 8:25 am

It's a little bit useless to talk about what should have been done in the past, imo. But if a country is able to preserve its own antiquities today, as Greece clearly is able, there is no excuse for not returning property to its place of origin.

It was a thrill to visit the Pergamon museum. I'll keep the memories of that forever. But I certainly had no right to see them in Germany instead of the Near East.
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Postby portia » Thu Sep 29, 2011 1:01 pm

If it really is able to take reasonable care of its artifacts, I would agree with you. I will not even quibble about Egypt, even though rumor has it that its museums are not the best. They seem reasonably safe, and will improve.

Greece, I am a little less confident of, but they are working hard on restoration, so there could be a good place there to keep the Marbles until the restoration is far enough along.
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