Priceless Treasures The British Museum Should Probably Return (And Why)

List Rules
Vote up the artifacts you think the British Museum should return as soon as possible.

The Tower of London, home to the British crown jewels, isn't the only UK edifice with controversial valuables taken from elsewhere, including the Kohinoor diamond from India (the 105.6-carat gem is also claimed by Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan). The British Museum, as one of the largest repositories of priceless artifacts in the world, is both beloved for its work in preserving  treasures of the ancient world and criticized for hoarding the irreplaceable cultural touchstones of other societies. The Elgin Marbles controversy and the debate raging over the fate of the Rosetta Stone are but two of the many issues surrounding the British Museum's collection. Do these items belong to the nations the British colonial forces took them from, or do they belong to the United Kingdom? Is it better for them to be safely housed in London or returned to their places of origin? Should the British Museum return artifacts? Vote below for the artifacts you most think should be returned to their home countries.

  • 1
    8,224 VOTES

    Easter Island Head

    Region of Origin: Easter Island

    Year Acquired: 1868

    The British Museum possesses an incredibly rare example of the world-famous Easter Island heads, named Hoa Hakananai'a (translated by some to mean, quite ironically, "stolen friend or hidden friend"). The head comes from the island of Rapa Nui, whose residents have requested that the head be returned. Carlos Edmunds, president of the Council of Elders of Rapa Nui told The Guardian in 2019 that Hoa Hakananai'a "embodies the spirit of an ancestor, almost like a grandfather. This is what we want returned to our island - not just a statue."

    8,224 votes
  • 2
    6,195 VOTES

    Maori Taonga

    Region of Origin: New Zealand

    Year Acquired: Various

    2,300 Maori heirlooms reside in the British Museum - masks, ceremonial garb, and religious artifacts. In 2018, a protest group called BP or Not BP put on a tour of the museum called "Stolen Goods," which highlighted items they believed were unlawfully removed from their nation of origin. The Maori items were spotlighted for their deep connection to their ancestors. In November 2011, the Natural History Museum of Britain returned "skulls, a jawbone and other fragments from the Torres Strait archipelago," which came into British hands during 19th-century colonial exploration and explotation. "People are addressing the colonial foundations of museums and challenging that," Sarah Morton, a lecturer in heritage at Bath Spa University, told The Guardian in 2019.

    6,195 votes
  • 3
    5,384 VOTES

    The Benin Bronzes

    Region of Origin: Nigeria

    Year Acquired: 1897

    The majority of the items considered part of the Benin Bronzes are not, in fact, bronze. The collection includes brass plaques, elephant tusks, sculptures, and masks. The items are spread across the world, in museums like the Met in New York and, of course, the British Museum. A museum is planned for Benin City, Nigeria, which would showcase the Bronzes in a series of rotating loans, but there are some who advocate for permanent repatriation of the antiques. Benin City came under British control after a military invasion in 1897. Soldiers looted treasures from the city, which formed the basis for the Benin Bronzes collection. The fate of this Nigerian cultural treasure was the inspiration for the art heist sequence in the 2018 blockbuster Marvel movie Black Panther.

    5,384 votes
  • 4
    5,544 VOTES

    The Gweagal Shield

    Region of Origin: Australia

    Year Acquired: 1770

    The aboriginal shield came into British hands after an attack on Australian natives by British Captain James Cook in the late 1700s. The ancestor of the Gweagal warrior Cooman, Rodney Kelly, has become an advocate for the British returning this artifact to Australia. Kelly told The Guardian in 2016, "What I’m pushing for is not a loan, not just a permanent loan. The shield has got to stay in a museum in Sydney - that’s the only place for it - then it’s up to the elders of the Gweagal people what goes on with it, how the history relating to it is used for our people and other Australians."

    5,544 votes
  • 5
    5,554 VOTES

    Mummy Of Katebet

    Region of Origin: Egypt

    Year Acquired: 1835

    This mummy, dating back to 1300 BC, is of a chantress of amun - a high-status, upper-class female. Katabet was purchased from archaeologist Henry Salt in a Sotheby's auction in 1835. The mummification was highly intricate, and she was found with numerous jewels and other accoutrements. 

    5,554 votes
  • 6
    4,982 VOTES

    Colossal Granite Head Of Amenhotep III

    Region of Origin: Egypt

    Year Acquired: 1823

    The statue, made of red granite, depicts Egyptian King Amenhotep III. The only remaining pieces of the destroyed statue are the head and arm. The head alone weighs 3,600 kilograms, or almost 8,000 pounds. British archaeologist Henry Salt came into possession of the artifact when he found it in a warehouse in Cairo. 

    4,982 votes