Many countries are request the repatriation of their legacy from museums across Europe and North America.
And thousands of Egyptians once again demanded the repatriation of the Rosetta Stone, one of the British Museum’s most important artifacts.
Monica Hanna, principal of the Arab Institute of Science, Technology & Maritime Transport and organizer of one of two petitions, said: “The British Museum’s keeping of the stone is a symbol of violence. Western cultural forces on Egypt. Calling for the return of the stone.
The dark gray granite inscriptions, the text of a decree in three languages, were a major breakthrough in deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.
The “confiscation” of the Rosetta Stone took place during the imperial battles between Britain and France. After the army of Napoleon Bonaparte occupied Egypt, French soldiers discovered the stone in 1799 in the northern town of Rashid, known to the French as Rosetta.
In 1801, British forces defeated the French in Egypt, and the stone tablet and more than a dozen other artifacts were taken away by the British under the terms of the surrender agreement. It has remained in the British Museum ever since.
Hanna’s petition, with 4,200 signatures, said that the confiscation of the stone was “an act of plunder” of a “trophy of war”. This statement was echoed in a petition by Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s former minister in charge of antiquities, which has more than 100,000 signatures. Both petitions argue that Egypt had no say in the 1801 agreement.
In a statement, the British Museum said the 1801 treaty included the signature of an Ottoman admiral who fought alongside the British against the French, arguing that he represented Egypt as Ottoman monarch nominally ruled Egypt at the time of Napoleon’s invasion.
The museum also says that the Egyptian government has not submitted a return request and that 21 of the 28 known copies of the engraved decree are still in Egypt.
A breakthrough in understanding hieroglyphics
The stone was originally of unparalleled significance to Egyptology. Carved in the 2nd century BC, the tablet contains three versions of a decree concerning a settlement between the then-ruling Ptolemies and a sect of Egyptian priests. The first is classical hieroglyphics, the next is a simplified hieroglyphic script called demotic, and the third is Ancient Greek.
Through knowledge of the latter, scholars were able to decipher hieroglyphic symbols, with French Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion finally deciphering the language in 1822.
The stone is one of more than 100,000 Egyptian and Sudanese relics brought to the British Museum. Many of these photographs were taken during the British colonial rule of the two countries from 1883 to 1953.
An increasing number of museums and collectors are returning artefacts to their country of origin, sometimes by order of the court, while in some cases voluntarily, as an act of atonement. historical mistakes.
New York’s Metropolitan Museum returned 16 artifacts to Egypt in September after an investigation in the United States concluded they had been illegally trafficked. On Monday, London’s Horniman Museum returned more than 72 objects, including 12 Benin Coins that were robbed in 1897, to the Nigerian government.
Nicholas Donnell, an attorney in the US who specializes in cases involving art and artifacts, said no international legal framework exists for such disputes. Unless there is evidence that an artifact was acquired outside of those deemed acceptable channels, repatriation is largely at the discretion of the museum.
“Given the treaty and the timeframe, Rosetta Stone is a tough legal battle to win,” said Donnell.
The British Museum has acknowledged that several repatriation requests have been made to it from various countries for the artifacts, but it did not provide the Associated Press with any details on the status or their number. It also did not confirm whether it had ever repatriated an artifact from its collection.
For Nigel Hetherington, an archaeologist and CEO of the online academic forum Past Preserves, the museum’s lack of transparency suggests other motives.
“It’s about money, staying relevant, and the fear that when you return certain items, people won’t come,” he said.
Western museums have long tried to justify their holdings of world heritage treasures by claiming superior facilities and attracting larger audiences.
For Hanna, Egyptians’ access to history is a top priority. “How many Egyptians can go to London or New York?” she speaks.
Amid the turmoil following the 2011 uprising that toppled former leader Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has seen an increase in antiquities smuggling, costing the country an estimated $3 billion since 2009. 2011 to 2013, according to the US-based Antiquities Alliance.
But the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has since invested heavily in its antiquities. Egypt has successfully recovered thousands of internationally smuggled artefacts and plans to open a newly built modern museum that can house tens of thousands of objects.
Egypt’s numerous ancient monuments, from the Pyramids of Giza to the towering statues of Abu Simbel near the border with Sudan, are a magnet for tourism that will attract $13 billion by 2021.
Egyptian authorities did not respond to a request for comment on Egypt’s policy regarding the Rosetta Stone or other Egyptian artifacts displayed abroad. Hawass and Hanna said they did not place their hopes on the government.
“The Rosetta Stone is a symbol of Egyptian identity,” Hawass said. ”I will use the media and intellectuals to tell the (UK) museum that they have no right.”