British Museum examines Ethiopian tablets hidden from view

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A regulatory office is investigating the British Museum over the institution’s excessive secrecy about 11 Ethiopian artefacts in its collection, which were looted by soldiers in 1868.

The artefacts are sacred wooden and stone altar tablets or tabots, which were stolen by British soldiers during the Battle of Maqdala. The objects have never been on public display and tradition dictates that only priests of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church can see them, barring them from being examined by the museum’s curators and trustees.

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A complaint has been submitted to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) arguing that the British Museum has failed to disclose material about artefacts following a Freedom of Information request. The request was submitted last August by the non-profit organization Returning Heritage.

The organization said the museum’s response omitted relevant materials and heavily redacted other information regarding the institution’s international discussions on Ethiopian artifacts. When British Museum Act 1963 While the sale, exchange, disposition or disposal of the objects is prohibited except in very limited circumstances, Returning Heritage argued that the unclear status of other disputed artefacts in its collection meant that the Ethiopian tabots could now be returned.

“This Act makes it very clear that the museum [can’t] Return Objects, said Louise McNaught, Managing Editor of Returning Heritage told Guardian, “But there are some legal exemptions within the Act. And one of those exemptions allows the trustees to return certain items if they deem them ‘unfit to be kept’.

According to Guardianreports, Returning Heritage believes that the restrictions that prevent the exhibition and study of tabernacles – including the British Museum’s highly secured basement storeroom, which only Ethiopian clergy can enter – fit into this exempt category. Are.

The organization requested information from meetings where British Museum trustees discussed the sacred objects for possible insight into why senior officials do not believe they can be legally returned.

Tom Short, the organization’s legal counsel, explained, “Our client wants information from the museum that many would argue should be in the public domain by default.” Guardian, ,[It] Relates to decision making by a major public institution on a matter of very important public interest.

The British Museum has the largest such holding in Britain. Last September, a tabernacle taken during the same 1868 battle was restored to a church service after a university lecturer who saw the item for sale online failed to convince the seller to return it. , and then bought it with that goal in mind.

In February, Westminster Abbey said its dean and chapter, the church’s governing body, had “decided in principle” that a looted Ethiopian tablet sealed inside an altar should be returned. It was also taken during the Battle of Maqdala and donated to the abbey.

In 2019, the British Museum said its long-term ambition was to loan of tabots In an Ethiopian Orthodox church in London.

The British Museum did not respond to inquiries ARTnews As of press time.

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