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British Museum probed over concealed Ethiopian artefacts held for 150 years

Secrecy unveiled: British Museum under investigation for withholding Ethiopian treasures. — PA

The British Museum is under a microscope as the Information Commissioner began investigations of claims that the Museum has stigmatised the public view of its collection of Ethiopian holy relics that has been kept from the eyes of the public for more than a century and a half, The Guardian reported.

Comprising 11 wooden and stone tabot that, according to the museum, had been stolen by the British forces upon their victory at the Battle of Maqdala in 1868, the sacred items have never been utilized during the museum exhibits. To them, it is relegated such holiness that the museum’s curators and trustees are not afforded the privilege to handle the exhibits for testing or examination.

The same calls for the return of the found artefacts to Ethiopia have been prolonged over many years. In 2019, Ethiopia’s culture minister proposed this idea at a museum visit, for instance.

Complainants have escalated the issue by registering a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which argues that the museum did not provide all the information they needed about the deliberations related to the tablets in response to a freedom of information (FOI) request.

“Returning Heritage,” an entity concerned with cultural repatriation, gave the FOI inquiry in August 2023. Moreover, advocates for transparency argue that the museum failed to give detailed information, with some parts missing or overly censored. A Returning Heritage-sanctioned museum review verified and affirmed the prior decision.

The knowledge that a section of the British Museum Act 1963 providing for the prohibition on object disposal has presently expired has provoked the Returning Heritage group to demand that the relics be returned. These exclusions permit for goods as “inappropriate to be kept” to be surrendered.

This stubborn issue has been gaining traction recently with Westminster Abbey teasingly signalling its agreement, though not without doubt, to render back a single tabot which has been kept in the cathedral altar for years. Nevertheless, this museum is silent about this issue, as they do not communicate anything regarding this investigation.

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