Over 100 looted Benin bronzes to be returned to Nigeria by Cambridge University – Screen Shot
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Over 100 looted Benin bronzes to be returned to Nigeria by Cambridge University

The University of Cambridge has announced that it will return over 100 looted Benin bronzes to Nigeria—a move that comes as a surprise to many considering that calls demanding the UK to return artefacts stolen in Benin City (now southwest Nigeria) had been increasing since 2020.

A university spokesperson stated, “The Charity Commission has considered and approved the return of 116 historical objects, often referred to as the Benin bronzes, from the University of Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology to the National Commission of Museums and Monuments (NCMM) of Nigeria.”

They went on to explain that the university “is now working with the commission to finalise next steps” and will communicate these in due course. It should be noted however, that not all stolen artefacts will actually be physically returned—some will be transferred to the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, as is required legally by the Republic of Nigeria, while others will remain in Cambridge on “extended loans.”

The artefacts, which are mainly made of brass but also include some ivory and wooden objects, were taken by British armed forces during the sacking of Benin in 1897, when the city’s palace was burned and its Oba (king) was exiled.

Thousands of brasses and other works—known collectively as the ‘Benin bronzes’—were taken and later sold off in London to recoup the hefty cost of the military mission. The artefacts ended up being scattered around the world in museums in the UK, Europe, and even the US, with claims for their restitution dating back to the mid-20th century.

In August 2022, London’s Horniman Museum announced that it would be handing over ownership of its 72 Benin bronzes to Nigeria. Since then, the floodgates for repatriation have well and truly opened.

For Nigeria however, this recent wave couldn’t have come soon enough. The country’s mission to reclaim the bronzes began in the 1930s, took hold with independence in 1960, and gathered pace in 2007 with the formation of the Benin Dialogue Group—a working party of representatives from Nigerian and European cultural institutions focused on bringing the artefacts together in Benin City.

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Many museums in the Western world contain artifacts that were looted during the colonial era. Freddie investigated the case of the Benin Bronzes, which the Nigerian Government have requested to be returned. Some have agreed to give back these artworks whereas others, such as the British Museum, have not.Let us know what you think about whether these artworks should be returned 👇 #BritishMuseum #Nigeria #Colonialism Art📸 AP / Getty / British Museum

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Then in October, the country’s culture minister, Lai Mohammed, urged the British Museum to follow the example of the Smithsonian Institution, which returned ownership of 29 Benin bronzes to Nigeria. “It’s not if, it’s when,” Mohammed said at the time.

Earlier in December, it was also revealed that the chair of the British Museum, George Osborne, had held talks with the Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, regarding the possible return of the Parthenon marbles.

Kim Kardashian denies purchasing looted ancient Roman statue

At the beginning of the week, reality star Kim Kardashian was named in court filings alleging she was involved in importing an ancient Roman statue that US officials say was stolen from Italy. Court documents filed in California said the US government has sought the forfeiture of a “looted, smuggled and illegally exported” antique that it believes was being delivered to the star.

Of course, a spokesperson for Kardashian said she “never purchased this piece” and that “this is the first that she has learned of its existence,” adding, “We believe that it may have been purchased using her name without authorisation and because it was never received (and) she was unaware of the transaction.”

Kim Kardashian denies purchasing looted ancient Roman statue

Italian officials think the sculpture, described as “Fragment of Myron’s Samian Athena, Limestone, Roman, 1st to 2nd century A.D.,” was originally looted from Italy, and they want it returned. The case actually dates to 2016, when the antique statue arrived at the Port of Los Angeles and immediately caught the attention of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials.

According to NBC News, the broker provided a form to the CBP that listed the consignee, or buyer, and importer as “Kim Kardashian dba Noel Roberts Trust.” The shipment, described as containing antiques, furniture and decorations, had 40 pieces in all valued at $745,882.

In 2018, an Italian archaeologist concluded that the piece showed signs of having been in Italy during the Roman Empire, and there are no records of its being legally exported as required under a 1909 law. “Based on the information and scientific aspects the archaeologist provided, the archaeologist opined that the defendant statue was looted, smuggled and illegally exported from Italy,” said the filing.

As authorities investigated, they found contradictions between documents that indicated that the statue originated from Italy and an unsworn affidavit stating that it did not originate there. A month later, they seized the statue after the broker did not prove sufficient documentation to American authorities, according to the court filing.

Court papers allege that invoices for the item, submitted by a customs broker, appear to describe two different statues—one originating from Germany and another from Italy. One invoice, dating to when Alex Vervoordt, who has worked with Kardashian and her estranged husband Kanye West on several of their properties, allegedly purchased the statue from a Paris gallery in 2012, describes it as a “large draped statue” from an “Old German collection.”

A second, from when Vervoordt purportedly sold the statue to the Noel Roberts Trust describes it as being only a “fragment” of a statue, with handwritten notes suggesting that it originated from Italy. Italian officials have also alleged that Vervoordt was in possession of the artifact in 2011—the year before he supposedly bought it. Court documents include a photograph of a sculpture taken at Vervoordt’s booth at an art fair in 2011, that the aforementioned archaeologist claims to be the statue in question.

Whether Kardashian knew about the statue beforehand remains unclear, but her and West’s Hidden Hills mansion has been compared to a museum… As the US government tries to legally seize the ancient Roman statue, it definitely doesn’t look like the reality star will show any signs of resistance.