The universities of Oxford and Cambridge have been able to return more than 200 objects looted by British colonial forces in 1897, after Nigeria requested the repatriation of the cultural objects this year.
The 213 objects, including many bronzes and a few ivory and wood carvings, were removed from Benin City by British troops in February 1897 in response to a fierce trade dispute the previous month.
During the attack, British forces burned down the city palace and exiled the Oba, or King, of Benin.
Several thousand brass and other artefacts – known collectively as the Benin Bronzes – were taken by the British and then sold to London to recoup the costs of the military mission.
Considered to be of exceptional artistic quality and importance, these works were avidly sought after by museums and collectors of the time, resulting in dispersal in many European and American museums as well as in the United Kingdom.
Claims for restitution date back to the mid-20th century and have intensified in recent years.
On January 7 this year, Oxford and Cambridge received formal complaints from the National Commission for Museums and Monuments of Nigeria (NCMM) for the return of the objects.
Cambridge has identified 116 objects known or presumed to have been looted, which are in the collections of the university’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology (MAA).
The claim with Oxford relates to 97 objects in the collections of its Pitt Rivers Museum and the Ashmolean Museum.
Both universities support requests for the return of the artifacts, which will be reviewed by the Charity Commission before their return can be authorized.
The University of Cambridge said its decision is in line with similar commitments recently made by other American and European museums, and reflects an industry-wide abandonment of curating collections, however these artifacts have been collected.
The Nigerian National Museums and Monuments Commission has said it welcomes proposals for loan agreements to allow the artefacts to remain on display, with appropriate acknowledgment, at the Cambridge Museum of Archeology and Anthropology.
Professor Nicholas Thomas, Director of the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, said: “In the international museum sector there is growing recognition that illegitimately acquired objects should be returned to their country of origin. ‘origin.
“The Smithsonian and major European museums have announced their decision to return collections to a number of countries.”
The University of Oxford said it was expected that the request for the return of the artifacts would be considered by the autumn.
In a statement, the University of Oxford said the Pitt Rivers Museum had received a claim from Nigeria for the return of “97 objects from the Pitt Rivers and Ashmolean Museum collections which were taken from Benin City by the armed forces. British in 1897”.
“The claim is currently being processed by the university in accordance with its claims procedures for the return of cultural objects,” the statement said.
“On June 20, 2022, Oxford University Council considered and supported the request for the return to Nigeria of the 97 objects.
“The university is now submitting the case to the Charity Commission, recommending the transfer of legal title to the objects to the NCMM.
“It is expected that the Charity Commission will consider the application by autumn 2022.”
The Nigerian government is developing the Edo Museum of West African Arts, as well as a storage and study facility for returned items, which is currently under construction alongside the existing museum in Benin City.