Wednesday, 10 July 2019

British Museum Congratulates Itself: Afghan Loot Being Repatriated 17 years Late

The nine sculpted heads were recovered
at Heathrow Airport in 2002
(© Trustees of the British Museum) 
Seventeen years after their seizure at London's Heathrow Airport, a large number of looted artefacts from Afghanistan are returning home. The objects, currently stored at the British Museum for safekeeping, include 4th-century Buddhist sculpture fragments ( Meilan Solly, 'Hundreds of Artifacts Looted From Iraq and Afghanistan to Be Repatriated' July 9th 2019):
 In 2002, border officials at London’s Heathrow Airport intercepted a pair of wooden crates brought into the country via a flight from Peshawar, Pakistan. Inside, they found a patchwork of 1,500-year-old clay limbs that had been crudely hacked off of sculptures that once stood in Buddhist monasteries in the ancient kingdom of Gandhāra in present-day northwestern Pakistan and northeastern Afghanistan. [...] the 4th-century sculptures—which include nine sculpted heads and one torso [...]  were likely targeted during the Taliban’s 2001 iconoclasm spree  [...] the sculptures speak to Buddhism’s short-lived influence in what is now Afghanistan, where the religion thrived between roughly the 4th and 8th centuries. 
A BM press release states that to Afghanistan will also be returning:
examples of the 1st-century Begram Ivories, a Buddha statue dating to the 2nd or 3rd century, Bronze Age cosmetic flasks, medieval Islamic coins, pottery, stone bowls, and “other minor items of mixed date and materials.”
It is not immediately clear why as long as 17 years were needed to identify what these objects are and put this material in boxes and send it back.  Its not as if any of the consigners and buyers have been put on trial in the UK... In the time it took the Brits to get their fingers out, the foreign looters and sellers have got away scot-free. How much time, for example, was spent mounting the loose heads on black stands (!) and then setting up the lighting for the snazzy publicity shot? Ridiculous... oh yeah, let the BM congratulate itself but the rest of us can see how awful it is at sending back to people what is theirs, not the property of the BM.

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