Alexandria II: Curators’ Revenge

Boy, those Egyptians sure wanted all of their things back in one place, didn’t they?

One of the most widely debated topics in the art history world today is repatriation, or the return of “stolen or gifted” items to the home country. Should museums be allowed to keep their collections as they are, for the benefit of their patrons, or are they required to return significant works of art to the countries they originated from?

The debate continues as Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s antiquities director, recently announced his continued quest to retrieve artifacts stolen from the countries centuries ago, when the archaeological statutes that we have now weren’t in place. Hawass claims he will be relentless in his efforts, and is teaming up with other countries around the globe in order to further his mission. Meeting last week at the “Conference on International Cooperation for the Protection and Repatriation of Cultural Heritage”, Egypt and 25 other countries, including China, Peru and Italy, hope to reclaim many of these ancient artifacts from museums around the world.

In Hawass’s sights are the Rosetta Stone, currently held in the British Museum; a statue of Ramses II from Turin’s Museo Egizio; and the bust of Nefertiti from Berlin’s Neues Museum.

You know, that’s an awesome idea. Let’s put all of the priceless artifacts in one place in an unstable region. What could go wrong?

Looters broke into the Egyptian Museum during anti-government protests late Friday and destroyed two Pharaonic mummies, Egypt’s top archaeologist told state television.

You know, a certain amount of diaspora of artifacts would help prevent that sort of thing. One might argue that it would be good for all of mankind if those priceless treasures remained scattered so they could not all be lost at once.

But that does not serve the interests of the aggrieved nations, who want to bolster their reputations, their museums, and their budgets.

(For information about Alexandria I, check out the Wikipedia.)

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