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Historical Investigation: Cultural Artifacts

Year 11 Ancient History


This past week, the Metropolitan Museum in New York announced it will return 19 small objects from King Tut's tomb to Egypt. Now the Egyptians are asking the British to return the Rosetta Stone.

The Art Angle Podcast: What Will Be the Fate of the Benin Bronzes? In part two of our series on the Benin Bronzes, Dan Hicks discusses the current status of the looted artworks.

The Gweagal shield is just one of the things James Cook and his shipmates took from the local people when they landed in Botany Bay. Why has it become the most contentious?

The arrival of Europeans in NZ kicked off a trade in Mokomokai — tattooed heads but these colonial souvenirs have their own complex history.

Stuff the British Stole Season 2

This statue known as a moai comes from the Island of Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island. Rapa Nui in the Pacific Ocean is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. Polynesians first settled on it before AD 800. Around 1000 moai were carved, probably to commemorate important former chiefs who were revered as divine. By 1600 the islanders ceased to make moai and they began to topple and even bury some of them.

Historian and author William Dalrymple and BBC journalist Anita Anand join us to discuss their new history of the Koh-i-Noor, the famed Indian diamond, which was controversially brought to Britain in the 19th century.


Activists say symbols of resistance taken when Captain Cook’s men first encountered Indigenous people in 1770 must come home, and not just on loan.

Creative Spirits

Aboriginal remains were stolen in Australia and illegally exported worldwide until the late 1940s. Their journey home is long and arduous. Many museums and scientific institutions resist returning them.

Oliveri et al

This paper aims to explore how stolen Indian antiquities were purchased by a major Australian collecting institution, despite cultural protection policies designed to prevent such inappropriate acquisitions. Using the acquisition of the Dancing Shiva as a case study, the purpose of this paper is to examine how collecting institutions such as the National Gallery of Australia experience difficulty when determining legal title through provenance research.


New Zealand claims for the return of preserved tattooed Maori heads held by foreign institutions have revisited complex legal, ethical, and cultural questions surrounding human remains in museum and other institutional collections worldwide.

The Conversation

Repatriation: why Western museums should return African artefacts- A large number of artefacts held in Western museums and libraries are known to have been appropriated over the ages through conquest and colonialism. The looting of African objects by anthropologists, curators and private collectors took place in war as well as in peaceful times. It was justified as an act of benevolence; as saving dying knowledge.

Dja Dja Wurrung barks are Australian art – the British Museum should return them- The Dja Dja Wurrung barks, produced in north-central Victoria in 1854, are some of the most significant objects in Australian history.

Who owns the bones? Human fossils shouldn’t just belong to whoever digs them up- Fossils hold invaluable information about human history. But digging deeper, there is much complexity around the question of what a “fossil” is, and who should be granted ownership of them.

Making kin not cash: repatriations of substance cannot be made on terms that solely suit European museums Jesus College Cambridge announced that it will return a bronze to Benin, which was looted by British forces in 1897. As more institutions engage with repatriation, we have to interrogate its value and explore what other systems of relations and artistic production we can learn in the process.

Easter Island statues: international law is shifting against British Museum - Hoa Hakananai’a is one of the most spiritually important Moai of all. He left Easter Island in 1868 when Captain Richard Powell, commander of the British frigate HMS Topaze, took him without permission. Powell gave the statue to Queen Victoria, who donated him to the British Museum. It has resided there ever since.

US museums hold the remains of thousands of Black people Among the human remains in Harvard University’s museum collections are those of 15 people who were probably enslaved African American people. Earlier this year, the school announced a new committee that will conduct a comprehensive survey of Harvard’s collections, develop new policies and propose ways to memorialize and repatriate the remains.


Want to learn more about Rosetta Stone? No, not the language learning software... the Rosetta Stone of the 19th century that helped crack the code of Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics! The Rosetta Stone was the first known alphabet to man... Tune in today to learn more about how the code of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics was unveiled.

Descendants are calling for the return of a priceless indigenous shield that was stolen by one of Captain Cook's men in 1770. The ancestral artifact is on display at the British Museum, but UK law prevents it from being returned to Australia.

Representatives from the Chilean territory of Easter Island are in London seeking the return of a statue brought to the United Kingdom 150 years ago. The carving, which has a name meaning "the one that brings calm", was taken from the Pacific island in 1868 by a British explorer.

How did the West African artworks known as the Benin Bronzes end up in European museums? And why does it matter?



Kohinoor is one of the most famous Diamond in the World. However there are historical scholars who think that this Diamond is cursed. Is it true? Do we have historical facts to prove this?

French parliament are to decide if Maori heads should be returned to New Zealand Te Karere Maori News TVNZ 1 Apr 2010.

The Ecconomist

Institutions are under pressure to return the spoils of empire, but doing so is far from simple.


Disputes over the retention of human remains in museums and other collections are further exacerbated by the common law’s limited recognition of the human body and its parts as property.


Marc Fennell unravels the true history of the Koh I Noor diamond which sits at the heart of the Crown Jewels. But beyond the glitz, he reveals the tragedy of a 10-year-old Sikh boy ripped from his mother and kingdom.

When King Charles III has his Coronation, will he sit on a potent and sacred symbol of the Scottish people? Marc Fennell investigates a wild Scottish heist to steal back an object - quite literally - from the British throne.

In a mystery binding together China, UK & Australia, British colonial forces took a golden warrior statue following an epic rebellion by Chinese martial artists. But how did it end up in a prestigious Australian building?

Crowfoot, a Chief of Blackfoot nation, negotiated one of the most controversial treaties in Canadian history and his personal regalia ended up in a British museum. Did colonial forces literally steal the shirt from his back?

For well over a century the remains of Yagan, an Indigenous Noongar warrior from WA, were missing in the UK. The search for Yagan and the fight to bring him home is one of history's wildest detective stories.

History Extra

The big question: should museums return their treasures? Amid calls for the ‘return’ of artifacts such as the Benin Bronzes, the Elgin Marbles, and art looted by the Nazis during the Second World War, now held in museums far from their places of origin, four experts discuss the ethical and historical aspects of the ‘restitution’ of such treasures.


The  study  investigated  visitors’notions  of  authentic  objects  across  nine  different  Germanmuseums, three science and technology, three natural history, and three cultural history. Thefindings buildon prior studies into  visitors’conceptions  of authenticity of artifacts  in science  museums, indicating  anuanced role of authentic objects for museum exhibitions from the visitors' perspective. 

Hoa Hakananai’a is one of the best known and most viewed of all the Easter Island statues. Taken from the remote Pacific island in 1868 and delivered to the British Museum the following year, it has been on public display in central London almost without a break for more than 140 years.


Britain's African empire in the nineteenth century was both extensive and ruthless. The empire was responsible not only for the colonies' loss of minerals and land, but also for the subjugation of the local people. In many cases, this included the looting and transfer of the colonized people's cultural property to Britain. Looting was an economic tool, but it was also a means for the colonial power to assert dominance over the colonized people through erasing cultural identity and instilling a sense of inferiority among the subjugated.

The Guardian

Should museums return their colonial artefacts? Europe’s museums serve a nuanced purpose and shouldn’t automatically bow to calls to return artworks plundered by 19th-century colonisers, writes V&A director Tristram Hunt.

British Museum is the world's largest receiver of stolen goods, says QC-Geoffrey Robertson says it should ‘wash its hands of blood and return Elgin’s loot’

Soldier's grandson to return items he looted from Benin City- Ceremonial paddles to be displayed at Oxford museum before restitution to Nigeria.

Easter Islanders call for return of statue from British Museum- Museum delegation to discuss preservation of island’s statues but indigenous tribes say they want Hoa Hakananai’a back.

Museums and looted art: the ethical dilemma of preserving world cultures- How can western ‘universal’ museums acquire and display artifacts without stoking the illegal arts trade and reproducing colonialist narratives?

The Guardian view on the restitution of cultural property- The world in 2019: The vexed politics of our times has obscured the view ahead. Over the holidays we will examine some big issues on the horizon. Today we look at a cultural right to return.


History Today

Do Historical Objects Belong in their Country of Origin? Four historians consider one of the most contentious questions facing the West’s museums and galleries.

The Ethics of Exhibition

David Hurst Thomas explores the controversies over collections of human remains and plundered artefacts.