This is an insight into disputed artifacts of the world.

For centuries, countries and nation states have used imperial rule, colonialism, occupation and war as an excuse to remove antiquities from their place of origin.

There have been very instances throughout history when artifacts and antiquities have been plundered, looted, stolen, seized and  pillaged.

From the times of ancient Egypt, classical Greece and Rome to the renaissance art-rich period of  Italy and into the early twenty first century in Iraq and Syria, the cultural rape of valuable artifacts and antiquities has happened.

It happened during the Roman empire and Napoleon tried to repeat it when he was Emperor of France.  Nazi Germany had similar ideas during world war two and in the modern era, what happened to the antiquities in the National Museum of Baghdad after the collapse of Iraq in 2003 cannot be ignored.

Artifacts are seen as prize captures by powerful countries to justify cultural and racial superiority.  They might be sculptures, paintings, monuments or even human remains.

Artifacts are spoils of treasure taken  by soldiers, merchants, archaeologists and even peasants within their own homeland, bribed for with money or other necessary commodities or with actions of persuasive restoration.

The artifacts are put  on display for public exhibition in museums or sold into private hands so that those with wealth can boast of it in their collection while having guests around to their house.

Treasure Hunting is at the core of personal and national pride. Curiosity, intrigue, greed, morality, national pride, boastfulness and commerce all play a part in the hunt for the treasure and then in its exhibition.

It goes beyond caribbean pirates stealing gold and silver from Spanish galleons.  It goes beyond the man on the beach in the late afternoon with a metal detector and it goes beyond the notion of taking something which does not and cannot ever belong to us.

The Elgin marbles taken from the parthenon temple at the Acropolis in Athens Greece, the Nefertiti Bust removed from the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, the Rosetta Stone, Moctrezuma’s headress of Aztec Mexico, Macchu Picchu artefacts, Geromino skull, Hottentot Venus (human remains of a South African woman) and even the Mona Lisa painting are all examples of disputed artifacts which are kept (or have been kept) in a museum, gallery or place of exhibition and not returned to their country or place of origin.

Museums and archaeologists have learnt to work hand in hand in antiquitous exploration, without which, we would not know as much as we do or have the educational medum that we do as a result.

Archaeology has become a phenomena in human exploration since mankind has developed tools and expertise to unearth what has been hidden over time.

Few artifacts are ever returned to their place of origin, despite strong legal claims by the original nation states to do so.

Justification in keeping the artifacts is based on moral and artistic grounds and that the artifacts are too fragile to be transported back to a far-away land.

It does seem, however,  rather contradictory that artifacts or antiquities which are newly discovered, are more often than not transported to a country far away for further research.

This usually happens with the agreement and understanding of the country of origin.

It would, of course, set a precedent if one artifact was returned, then all others would have to be returned as well and Museums would be potentially stripped of their ‘crown jewels in a heritage sense.

That precedent has perhaps already been set with the return of the Hottentot Venus to South Africa and the Macchu Pichu artifacts to Peru.

Nowadays, there is a greater recognition and educational understanding about the national value of antiquities and there are both national and international laws which prohibit the export of artifacts and antiquities from their place of origin.

The current world order is very much different from the past and the value of art is much more appreciated, even if it is not intellectually understood

We all know the meaning of the word ‘Treasure’.  Something of great value.

But to whom does treasure belong?  To whom should treasure belong?

Artifacts arguably belong to everyone as universal cultural property and should not be divided among nation-states.

But what about ‘Finders Keepers’?  Should we keep it if we find it?

‘Finders Keepers’ is a motto rather than a rule of law.  If you find it, you keep it, regardless of where you find it or to whom it might belong.

It depends, of course, where we find the artifact and what we do with it afterwards.

If we find an old roman coin in the field of a farmer, is it morally and legally correct to keep the coin as a personal souvenir?  Is it correct to sell it to a collector for a profit?

Is it therefore wrong to deny a claim of the farmer to any remuneration received for the roman coin?  Should the coin not belong to the nation state where it was found or to the original nation state, Rome in this instance?

The essence of disputed artifacts centres around the prize element of the treasure and the keeper not wishing to part with the find and possession, whatever the moral, legal and sociological justification for its return.

In the modern world, humanity is the guardian of antiquity as we travel the planet as tourists to visit museums, art galleries and other places of great historical interest.

It may not matter to us that we view ancient antiquities in London, Berlin, New York or Sydney and not in their place of origin, so long as the antiquities themselves are respectfully preserved for greater knowledge and cultural understanding.





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