Cambridge University to return over 100 Benin Bronzes looted in 1897 to Nigeria

Over a hundred stolen Benin bronzes will be sent back to Nigeria by the University of Cambridge. The artefacts, most of which are made of brass but also contain some items made of ivory and wood, were looted by British troops during the siege of Benin City in 1897.

“The Charity Commission has considered and approved the return of 116 historical items, also known 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, according to a university spokesperson.

“The university is now working with the commission to finalise the next steps regarding these Benin bronzes, and we will communicate these in due course.”

She added that some artefacts would remain in Cambridge “on extended loan” to ensure “this west African civilisation continues to be represented in the museum’s displays, and in teaching for school groups”.

She explained: “Those that return physically will be transferred to the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, as is required legally by the Republic of Nigeria, and an approach formally supported by the Oba of Benin.”

During the invasion in 1897, the British set fire to the city’s palace and banished the monarch or oba of Benin.

The “Benin bronzes”—a collective term for thousands of brasses and other pieces—were stolen, and the expense of the armed operation was eventually recouped through sales in London, as reported by the Guardian.

Claims for the return of the artefacts date back to the middle of the 20th century, but they are now spread out throughout the globe in museums in the UK, Europe, and the US.

The move by Cambridge comes as a demand to restore stolen artefacts to institutions and museums grows. Germany returned two bronze statues to Nigeria in July along with more than a thousand other artefacts from its museum holdings.

A few months later, in October, the Smithsonian Institution gave ownership of 29 Benin bronzes back to Nigeria. Lai Mohammed, the Nigerian cultural minister, encouraged the British Museum to do the same.

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The British Museum’s George Osborne was said to have discussed the possibility of returning the Parthenon marbles to Greece with Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the country’s prime minister, earlier this month.

Downing Street, however, has stated that there are no intentions to alter the legislation that forbids the British Museum from returning the Parthenon Marbles to Greece.

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