Datum: 16.08.10 10:18
Kategorie: Kultur-Kunst, Kommentare

Von: Dr. Kwame Opoku

Does history suffer when cultural artefacts are returned?


This is a question that may surprise many and indeed many may consider it wiser to leave unanswered rather than hazard untenable answers.  Michael Kaput has some views on this issue which he expresses in an article entitled, “Whose Heritage? Repatriating ancient treasures seems like a noble cause, but history might end up the loser.” The article has been reproduced in Elginism, a leading website devoted to the question of restitution, especially, the restitution of the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles. (1) 

Kaput does not give us any definition of history. If we take history as record of events and developments within a time framework, it becomes difficult to see why  the return of the bust of Nefertiti from Berlin to Cairo should be a loss to history. Did history suffer when the Egyptian queen was moved from Egypt to Germany? Or does history only suffer when artefacts are returned from their present locations in the West to their countries of origin? 

Following the well-known thesis of James Cuno and co, Kaput argues that the present contending States did not exist when the artefacts were made and transferred: 

“The war over antiquities is waged between modern nation states, which didn’t exist at the times the artifacts were created or removed. Many of the artifacts in question were taken across the borders of defunct political bodies, Ottoman-administered Egypt in the case of the Rosetta Stone, and Ottoman-administered Greece in the case of the Elgin Marbles. Though cases can be made for their return, it is logically and legally impossible to hold modern-day states accountable for the actions of past governments, regimes and empires.”

This argument has hitherto been advanced by the retentionists to deprive a claimant such as Egypt of her right to the bust of Nefertiti or to the Rosetta Stone. Kaput seems to be extending this contention to include an argument that the present holding States had not been in existence at the time of the alleged illegitimate transfers. Although he does not expressly say so, he seems to be implicitly extending the notion also to Great Britain and France by declaring that “Though cases can be made for their return, it is logically and legally impossible to hold modern-day states accountable for the actions of past governments, regimes and empires.”  This can only mean that the holding States did not exist at the time of transfer. At this point, we may start wondering whether he is really aware of what he is saying since Britain, and France  did exist at the time the disputed objects were removed. Whilst Cuno and co limited their questioning of the existence of present States at the time of production  or removal to  claiming States, Kaput extends the argument to holding States.  

As for modern States not being accountable for actions of past governments, regimes and empires, one may remind Kaput that there is such a notion as State  succession. He surely must be aware that the present German State and government have assumed certain obligations deriving from the nefarious activities of the evil Nazis and that the boundaries of many States are based on agreements made by previous States and governments. Without some kind of succession to both the good and bad deeds of previous States, life in present  States would be impossible.

Kaput buys completely Cuno’s idea that present-day Egyptians have no connections with ancient Egyptians:

“It is difficult to make the case that the artifacts of ancient Egypt were made by people bearing strong similarities to citizens of the modern-day Arab Republic of Egypt, just as it would be difficult for Greek PM Papindreou to say he has a tangible link to the lineage of Socrates. Though geography and cultural identity count for much personally, they are not consistent, logical or legal foundations for creating effective mechanisms to govern the return of antiquities”.

 We have already answered elsewhere the basic argument presented by Cuno on the alleged lack of continuity or links between ancient Egypt and present-day Egypt. If the  criteria set up by Cuno were applied to present-day France, Germany, Britain, and the United States, none of them would be able to hold artefacts found in their territories.(2) 





  1. 1. http://www.elginism.com

The article was first published at http://www.egypttoday.com  and has been mentioned in Egyptology News http://egyptology.blogspot.com

Ethiopian Review http://www.ethiopianreview.com

Lawyers Committee For Cultural Heritage Preservation http://www.culturalheritagelaw.org

  1. 2. K. Opoku, “Do Present-Day Egyptians Eat the Same Food Tutankhamun? Review of James Cuno’s Who owns Antiquity?” http://www.modernghana.com


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