22 May 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

The University of Aberdeen is to Return a Benin Bronze

Since Nigeria gained independence in 1960, Nigeria has been calling for the return of stolen Benin bronzes (including brass reliefs, bronze sculptures, and a set of ivory carvings). Today, the largest collection of these objects is located in the British Museum.

Aberdeen University was not indifferent to this call. The bronze sculpture depicting an Oba (king) of Benin was acquired by the University in 1957 at auction and is considered a magnificent example of late-period Beninese art.

The University of Aberdeen initiated a conversation through Professor Bankole Sodipo, professor of law at Babcock University in Nigeria, with the National Commission of Museums and Monuments of Nigeria through its legal adviser, Babatunde Adebiyi, the Edo State Government through the then-Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Professor Yinka Omorogbe and the Royal Court of the Oba in Benin through Prince Professor Grzegorz Akenzu in 2020.

The Nigerian Federal Government provided support through the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and its Minister Alhaji Lai Mohammed.

Through this dialogue, the University of Aberdeen became the first institution to agree to complete repatriation from the Benin Bronze Museum.

Neil Curtis, Head of Museums and Special Collections said “The University of Aberdeen has previously agreed to repatriate sacred items and ancestral remains to Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and has a procedure that considers requests in consultation with claimants.

“An ongoing review of the collections identified the Head of an Oba as having been acquired in a way that we now consider to have been extremely immoral, so we took a proactive approach to identify the appropriate people to discuss what to do,” he said.

The University’s governing body supported the unconditional return of the Benin bronze to Nigeria.

The Benin bronze - a sculpture depicting the head of an Oba (king)
The Benin bronze – a sculpture depicting the head of an Oba (king)

Professor George Boyne, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen said: “I welcome the decision of the University of Aberdeen Court to support the return of the Benin bronze. This is in line with our values as an international, inclusive university and our foundational purpose of being open to all and dedicated to the pursuit of truth in the service of others.

“It would not have been right to have retained an item of such great cultural importance that was acquired in such reprehensible circumstances. We, therefore, decided that an unconditional return is the most appropriate action we can take, and are grateful for the close collaboration with our partners in Nigeria.”

Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture of Nigeria said: “The reaching out by the University of Aberdeen and eventual release of the priceless antiquity is a step in the right direction. Other holders of Nigerian antiquity ought to emulate this to bring fairness to the burning issue of repatriation”.

The proposed West African Art Edo Museum is championed by Godwin Obaseki, the current governor of Edo State, Nigeria, where the Kingdom of Benin, the ancient capital of Nigeria, fell. This modern museum will become part of an unprecedented cultural center that will include the museum and other cultural heritage infrastructure, including Oba’s Palace.

It is implemented through an independent trust established by the Edo State Government in cooperation with the National Museum and Antiquities Commission and the Royal Benin Palace (“Inheritance Restoration Trust Fund”). This cultural center was designed by the famous architect Sir David Adjaye. The finally returned Benin bronzes will ultimately be stored in this proposed museum.

Many museums are discussing Benin bronzes in their collections and are supporting the establishment of the Edo West African Art Museum in Benin to exhibit returned items under contracts made by all parties.

What are the Benin bronzes?

Benin bronzes are a group of thousands of items that were taken from the kingdom of Benin, in what is now Nigeria, in 1897 (their exact number is unknown). These objects—including figurines, tusks, sculptures of Benin’s rulers, and an ivory mask— have been looted by British troops and have since been scattered around the world and most of the works are now in state museums in Europe. Contrary to the name, not all works are made of bronze.

Source: The University of Aberdeen

Related Articles

A still life fresco discovered in new excavations of Pompeii Regio IX

28 June 2023

28 June 2023

Archaeologists excavating the ancient city of Pompeii have uncovered a gorgeous still-life fresco depicting a platter covered in food and...

An Elamite inscription attributed to Xerxes the Great was found at Persepolis

26 February 2022

26 February 2022

During the classification and documentation project of inscribed objects and fragmentary inscriptions in the Persepolis Museum reserves, experts discovered a...

Ancient Roman city of Pompeii, archaeologists have unearthed a fresco depicting the Greek mythological siblings Phrixus and Helle

2 March 2024

2 March 2024

Archaeologists excavating a house adjacent to the House of Leda in Insula 6, Regio V, in the ancient Roman city...

People may have been cooking curries in South-East Asia for at least 2000 years

22 July 2023

22 July 2023

Archaeologists have found remnants of eight spices on a sandstone slab from an archaeological site in Vietnam, showing the early...

Silver coins found near the ruins of the medieval monastery in Holy island

10 November 2021

10 November 2021

Archaeologists have discovered a silver coin on Lindisfarne, known as Holy Island, in the northeast of England. Dig Ventures is...

An Amazing Discovery in the 1900-year-old Rock Church, – Sand Dollar Fossil

5 March 2024

5 March 2024

Located in the eastern province of Diyarbakır’s Eğil district, the rock church, the walls of which are decorated with different...

Roman Bath Complex Found under Spain’s Caños de Meca beach

22 May 2021

22 May 2021

A well-preserved ancient Roman bath complex emerged from the sand of a beach in the Andalusian region of southwestern Spain....

A Viking ship discovered at Salhushaugen Cemetery in Norway

22 April 2023

22 April 2023

Archaeologists in Norway, a 20-meter-long Viking ship has been discovered using georadar on a mound previously believed to be empty....

An 8,200-year-old temple structure found in Çatalhöyük

6 September 2022

6 September 2022

An 8,200-year-old temple structure was found during the 30th excavation season of the excavations at Çatalhöyük, one of the first...

Burial site for Enigmatic Anglo-Saxon King Cerdic found, author claims

3 May 2024

3 May 2024

The possible final resting place of Cerdic, the enigmatic founder of the Kingdom of Wessex and a key figure in...

The earliest human remains 11,000-year-old discovered in northern Britain

25 January 2023

25 January 2023

An international team of archaeologists at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) has discovered 11,000-year-old human remains in the Heaning...

Archaeologists unearthed fresh evidence that bedbugs came to Britain with the Romans

3 February 2024

3 February 2024

Archaeologists working the Roman garrison site of Vindolanda in Northumberland, south of Hadrian’s Wall, have discovered new proof that the...

A pendant made of mammoth bone with ‘mysterious dots’ could be the oldest known example of ornate jewelry in Eurasia

26 November 2021

26 November 2021

The fragments of an ancient pendant made of mammoth ivory were unearthed in Poland, and are regarded to be the...

An Interesting Ottoman Tradition Resembling Christmas tree: “NAHIL” OR WISHING TREE

28 December 2022

28 December 2022

Nahıl, a word of Arabic origin, means date palm. This word was later used by the people to mean the...

3,000-year-old Treasure on the Iberian Peninsula made with material from a meteorite

7 February 2024

7 February 2024

Scientists have recently discovered that some of the pieces in the amazing Bronze Age collection known as the Villena Treasure,...