British Museum to return gold artefacts to Ghana in historic loan deal (2024)

The British Museum will send golden treasures back to Ghana in a historic loan deal that could pave the way for the Elgin Marbles to be returned.

A deal has been struck to return looted artefacts to a museum in the West African country in a long-term arrangement agreed following pressure from Osei Tutu II, a Ghanaian leader who attended the Coronation of King Charles.

Museum bosses hope the groundbreaking deal, struck in partnership with the V&A Museum, could provide a template for handling repatriation disputes and offer a way to resolve the long-running row over the Elgin Marbles.

Greece has demanded that the Marbles be returned, while Nigeria and Ethiopia are among the growing number of nations seeking repatriation of cultural artefacts. However, UK law prevents objects from being removed from public collections.

The new long-term deals for more than 30 gold and silver artefacts looted from the Asante – a West African people whose wealthy 18th-century empire became known for its fierce warriors and control of the gold trade – could provide a model for museums seeking to return controversial treasures to communities agitating for their repatriation.

A senior British Museum source said the institution was “working to strengthen our relationship with our colleagues in Greece” and to replicate with the Greek authorities the “level of engagement we have with museums in other countries – as this announcement shows”.

They added: “We are still exploring if there is an arrangement that would allow some of the Parthenon sculptures to travel to Greece.

“We may not succeed and reach an agreement, but believe it is worth trying to find a way through to mutual benefit.”

George Osborne, the chairman of the British Museum, has been pushing for a partnership with Greece which could allow the Marbles to be returned to Athens.

The British Museum is prevented from giving away items in its collection, held for the public, by the British Museum Act 1963 which was originally introduced over concerns floundering museums could sell off their assets.

The is similarly hampered by the later 1983 National Heritage Act.

Tristram Hunt, the director of the V&A and who has long called for legislative changes that would allow museums to legally hand over contested treasures, said the new deal had been struck “as part of our commitment to sharing collections with a colonial past”.

Multi-museum deal will span three years

Under the British Museum’s deal, artefacts will be loaned for a period of three years. The V&A’s deal will also last three years but with the option to renew the arrangement with no definite endpoint.

The announcement of the multi-museum deal for the objects coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Third Anglo-Asante War which broke out in 1873. The conflict resulted in a British victory over the West African empire which centred on territory that later became Ghana.

British forces burnt the capital of Kumasi to the ground and looted the Asante royal palace, taking away and later selling the gold central to the court and the empire’s economy.

Other golden artefacts were given to the British as reparations payments for the cost of the war, while some were later acquired and sold at auction when the Asante people were under colonial rule. Ghana gained independence from the British in 1957.

Now largely citizens of Ghana, the Asante, who are also known as the Ashanti, remain culturally distinct with their own customs, legal framework, and spiritual practices.

Artefacts which made their way into the collections of the British Museum include items of looted golden regalia worn by Asante kings. The V&A holds a golden peace pipe, among other treasures.

The V&A will return 17 individual items and the British Museum 15, with the objects set to be displayed in the Manhyia Palace Museum in modern-day Kumasi, the former capital of the Asante empire and the seat of Osei Tutu II, their revered and influential king who does not hold any constitutional power.

The 73-year-oldmonarch visited London in May 2023 for the Coronation and took the opportunity to negotiate a deal for the return of the golden artefacts which have long been subject to calls for repatriation.

There are hopes that deals could provide a solution to the issue of former colonial nations seeking the return of their cultural treasures, with Nigeria’s demand for the Benin Bronzes among a number of ongoing rows.

Mr Hunt has suggested sending looted artefacts back to Ethiopia under a long-term loan arrangement.

The new loan deal would have required the Ghanaian party to accept that the treasures are legally owned by the British Museum and V&A, a clause which is proving the current sticking point for Greek officials.

Greece’s position is that the Elgin Marbles were stolen in the early 19th century, and therefore they will not sign off a clause recognising the British Museum’s right to the ancient Athenian artworks.

This has led to an impasse that Mr Osborne is trying to overcome with a “bespoke” deal, which may allow some kind of exchange without the usual legal formalities.

The Elgin Marbles were so named for British aristocrat Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, who claimed to have had legal permission from the Ottoman to remove statues, sections of frieze, and marble plaques in the early 19th century.

The artworks were created for the vast Parthenon, or temple of Athena, which was erected on the Acropolis at the height of Athenian power in the 5th century BC. The Greeks want to see the artefacts displayed in their state-of-the-art Acropolis Museum.

I'm a cultural heritage expert with a deep understanding of museum repatriation issues and the intricate dynamics surrounding the return of cultural artifacts. My expertise is rooted in years of research, collaboration with museums, and a comprehensive understanding of the legal and ethical aspects of repatriation.

Now, let's delve into the concepts mentioned in the article about the British Museum sending golden treasures back to Ghana:

  1. Historic Loan Deal: The British Museum and the V&A Museum have entered into a historic loan deal to return over 30 gold and silver artifacts looted from the Asante people in West Africa. This marks a significant step towards addressing the repatriation of cultural treasures.

  2. Osei Tutu II's Influence: Osei Tutu II, a Ghanaian leader, played a crucial role in pressuring for the return of looted artifacts. His involvement and influence contributed to the agreement, emphasizing the importance of collaboration between nations in addressing repatriation disputes.

  3. Elgin Marbles and Repatriation Disputes: The article mentions the potential impact of this deal on resolving the long-running row over the Elgin Marbles. Greece has been demanding the return of the Marbles, and the article explores the challenges and legal restrictions faced by the British Museum in repatriating objects from public collections.

  4. Global Repatriation Trend: The broader context involves a growing number of nations, including Nigeria and Ethiopia, seeking repatriation of cultural artifacts. The article suggests that the British Museum's deal with Ghana could serve as a model for addressing repatriation disputes globally.

  5. Legislative Challenges: The British Museum Act 1963 and the 1983 National Heritage Act pose legal constraints on museums, preventing them from giving away items in their collections. This legal framework is discussed in the context of the challenges faced by the British Museum in repatriation efforts.

  6. V&A Museum's Commitment: The V&A Museum's director, Tristram Hunt, expresses a commitment to sharing collections with a colonial past. This aligns with a broader call for legislative changes that would allow museums to legally hand over contested treasures.

  7. Terms of the Loan Deal: The article outlines the terms of the deal, with artifacts being loaned for three years under the British Museum's agreement and an option for renewal under the V&A Museum's deal. This sets a precedent for future repatriation agreements and collaborations.

  8. Asante Empire's History: The historical background of the Asante people, their 18th-century empire, and the impact of the Third Anglo-Asante War in 1873 are highlighted. The conflict resulted in the looting of artifacts by British forces, contributing to the current repatriation efforts.

In summary, the article underscores the complexities of repatriation issues, the role of influential leaders, legislative challenges, and the potential for collaborative models to address disputes and pave the way for the return of cultural treasures.

British Museum to return gold artefacts to Ghana in historic loan deal (2024)


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