Famous Museum Exhibits The Original Countries Want Back

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Vote up the artifacts you think should be returned as soon as possible.

Artifacts that adorn the halls and walls of museums in the Western world are not always acquired through reputable means. Some of the most famous museum exhibits and objects on display at places like the British Museum in London were taken from other countries.

From Africa to Iraq to India, leaders from these nations continue to speak out and request the return of their cultural heritage.


  • 1
    1,241 VOTES

    Kingdom of Dahomey Anthropomorphic Statues

    Current Museum: Musée du quai Branly, Paris

    Region Of Origin: Benin, Africa

    Exhibit History: The French government under President Emmanuel Macron has made a pledge to repatriate artifacts and artworks taken during colonization. Among many objects from Africa are 26 pieces taken during the looting of the Abomey Palace in 1892. These anthropomorphic wooden statues, elaborately detailed and painted, include royal crests that represent different rulers from the Kingdom of Dahomey, which thrived between the 17th and 19th centuries in modern-day Benin.

    In 2019, France and Benin signed a deal that ensures both the return of these artifacts and the French government's financial support to build or remodel museums in Benin. Macron's promise to return all 26 pieces by the beginning of 2021, however, was not fulfilled. Patrick Mudekereza, a museum professional in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, doubts Macron's commitment to restitution. Mudekereza said he believes Macron is "not keeping his word."

    1,241 votes
  • 2
    1,239 VOTES

    Burial Mask Of Ka-Nefer-Nefer

    Current Museum: Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis

    Region Of Origin: Saqqara, Egypt

    Exhibit History: In 1951, archaeologist Mohammed Zakaria Goneim excavated the funeral mask of long-deceased Egyptian noblewoman Ka-Nefer-Nefer. Also known as "The Twice-Beautiful Ka," Ka-Nefer-Nefer lived during the 19th Dynasty in Ancient Egypt. Made of plaster, linen, resin, glass, wood, gold, and pigment, the funerary mask is an example of New Kingdom sculpture.

    In the 1970s, the Egyptian government discovered the Ka-Nefer-Nefer Mask was missing. Fast-forward two decades, and the Saint Louis Art Museum in America purchased the mask from the gallery Phoenix Ancient Art of New York for just under $500,000. When the mask became part of the museum's permanent exhibits, Egypt cried foul, claiming it had obviously been transported out of the country under felonious circumstances and needed to be returned.

    The United States government, in an unprecedented move, sued the Saint Louis Art Museum in 2011 in hopes the mask would be repatriated to Egypt. The case fell apart when US attorneys didn't meet a filing deadline. It remains in St. Louis to this day.

    1,239 votes
  • The Elgin Marbles
    Photo: Giannis Papanikos /
    1,358 VOTES

    Current Museum: British Museum, London

    Region Of Origin: Athens, Ancient Greece

    Exhibit History: "They symbolize the very foundation of Greek and European culture, one which is of universal significance. The dismembered sculptures offend our common European heritage and its perception worldwide," Greek EU member Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou shared during a discussion about the fate of the Elgin Marbles, which were taken from the grounds of the Acropolis between 1801 and 1812.

    Named after the British diplomat who oversaw their seizure and eventually sold them to his government, the Elgin Marbles date back 2,500 years to a time of great prosperity for Ancient Athens. Many of the marble friezes were taken from the Parthenon, leading some to refer to the British Museum exhibit where they now reside as the Parthenon Marbles.

    Attempts to broker a deal between the British Museum and the Greeks have gone nowhere. Both UNESCO and the EU have gotten involved in the mediation, but the friezes remain on British soil for now.

    1,358 votes
  • Beard Of The Sphinx
    Photo: British Museum / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
    1,227 VOTES

    Beard Of The Sphinx

    Current Museum: British Museum, London

    Region Of Origin: Giza, Egypt

    Exhibition History: Constructed during ancient Egypt's Old Kingdom as the living image of Fourth-Dynasty Pharaoh Khafre, the mystical and cherished Great Sphinx of Giza is missing an important element: its beard. Fragments of the limestone Beard of the Sphinx are actually scattered around the world, and the British Museum houses what it claims to be a "small fragment" of the iconic sculpture. According to the museum, the beard was likely added to the mythical creature later, during the 18th Dynasty.

    The museum purportedly acquired the piece from Giovanni Battista Caviglia, who excavated it in 1817. Theories abound about how the beard fell off. While some contend Napoleon's troops damaged the monument, records dating back to the 15th century mention the Great Sphinx's missing beard. No matter how it ended up detached from its head, Egyptians want the Beard of the Sphinx returned to its original spot, where it serves as a buttress for the "somewhat unstable head."

    1,227 votes
  • Hoa Hakananai'a Head
    Photo: James Miles / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0
    1,348 VOTES

    Hoa Hakananai'a Head

    Current Museum: British Museum, London

    Region Of Origin: Easter Island, Oceania

    Exhibit History: Easter Island's dramatic basalt statues have shown up in museums around the world since the 19th century. Known to natives as moai, these large structures in the shape of human heads were erected from 1100 to 1600 CE. Although most of the estimated 887 paleolithic monuments remain on the Polynesian island, the missing statues are a major cause for concern among the indigenous Rapa Nui. 

    The Hoa Hakananai'a, which translates to "lost or stolen friend," is a popular exhibit at the British Museum, acquired after the British ship HMS Topaze removed it from the island in 1869.

    In 2018, the governor of Easter Island, Tarita Alarcón Rapu, went to the British Museum in hopes of convincing its administration to return the sacred cultural artifact to its home. She said:

    We all came here, but we are just the body - England people have our soul. And it is the right time to maybe send us back (the statue) for a while, so our sons can see it as I can see it.

    In 2019, representatives from the British Museum traveled to Easter Island, but no further progress has been made toward repatriating Hoa Hakananai'a.


    1,348 votes
  • Nefertiti Bust
    Photo: Philip Pikart / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
    1,229 VOTES

    Nefertiti Bust

    Current Museum: Neues Museum, Berlin

    Region Of Origin: Thutmose, Ancient Egypt

    Exhibit History: In 1912, a German archaeological mission headed by Egyptologist Ludwig Borchardt visited Cairo, where the group made a deal with the Egyptian government to procure some of the artifacts found in ​​Tell el-Amarna, which was built by Pharaoh Akhenaten in the 14th century BCE. Among the items brought back to Germany was the stucco bust of Akhenaten's wife, Nefertiti, found in the workshop of the ancient Egyptian sculptor Thutmose.

    Berlin's Neues Museum debuted the Nefertiti Bust in 1925. The Egyptian government responded by declaring a ban on all German archaeological missions until the bust was returned. Nearly 100 years later, the bust remains in Germany. The German government has even passed a law that labels any artifact in the country's territory for more than 25 years a national treasure - no matter how it was acquired.

    Archaeologist Zahi Hawass has used his platform as Egypt's former antiquities minister to plead with the German government to return the sculpture. "Nefertiti’s head came out of [Egypt] illegally, and I call for its return to be seen by Egyptians at the inauguration of the Great Egyptian Museum," he said in 2018 while speaking in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

    1,229 votes