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Culture & Religion

Age and Antiquities

Should archaeological artifacts remain in the country in which they were found – or does the law of “finder’s keepers” prevail?

The secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities regards the Rosetta Stone, currently housed by the British Museum, as “stolen property languishing in exile”. “Scientists and curators have generally supported the laws passed in recent decades giving countries ownership of ancient ‘cultural property’ discovered within their borders. But these laws rest on a couple of highly debatable assumptions: that artifacts should remain in whatever country they were found, and that the best way to protect archaeological sites is to restrict the international trade in antiquities. In some cases, it makes aesthetic or archaeological sense to keep artifacts grouped together where they were found, but it can also be risky to leave everything in one place, particularly if the country is in turmoil or can’t afford to excavate or guard all its treasures. After the Metropolitan Museum was pressured to hand over a collection called the Lydian Hoard, one of the most valuable pieces was stolen several years ago from its new home in Turkey.”


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