June 15, 2020
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With the recent controversial loan of a Greek artifact from London’s British Museum to the State Hermitage Museum in Russia, the issue of repatriation has resurfaced. Does art have a national home, and when is it appropriate to repatriate artifacts? Associate Professor of Classics Zoë Kontes dives into discussion, along with three other experts, in The New York Times’s opinions feature “Room for Debate.”
Kontes, who specializes in the study of old world archaeology, supports the repatriation of artifacts, arguing that it “reinforces international collaboration.” “Ideally, repatriation would stem the loss of knowledge and help preserve our common human history,” she wrote.
She explains, however, that the legal debate surrounding repatriation makes the process complicated. “In practice, laws regarding cultural patrimony are inconsistent internationally and change over time, and the question of legal ownership can be endlessly debated,” she wrote. “Take the famous example of the Parthenon Marbles: Did Lord Elgin remove them legally from Greece (was it a pillaging or a rescue)? Does it count as legal if Greece was under Ottoman occupation at the time? Does the British Museum legally own them regardless? This legalistic wrangling doesn’t change the fact that the sculptures have a known place of origin from which they were removed, and, in a rare case, a context that still remains into the 21st century. This is reason enough for their repatriation.”
Read Kontes’s full essay in The New York Times.