Should Cultural artifacts remain at their places of Origin?

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When we visit local museums, we are often captivated by the remarkable artworks on display – paintings and sculptures that bring us immense joy. We eagerly anticipate returning to see them again, feeling as though they are an indispensable part of the museum itself. Yet, it is crucial to remember that these artifacts possess their own unique histories and origins.

Examining and appreciating the cultural significance of artifacts in local museums is crucial. However, concerns arise regarding their transportation and cleansing process due to possible illegal acquisition through historical warfare or the black market. Moreover, these artifacts hold symbolic value for their country of origin and act as cultural mementos. Considering these factors, returning them to their country of origin is preferable over preserving them in foreign museums, as it could prevent potential damage.

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Even with careful handling, human interaction with these items will inevitably lead to damage. Whether intentional or accidental, this damage not only diminishes their value, but also creates international conflicts. A prominent example is the Elgin marbles, currently housed in the British Museum, which caused a major dispute between Greece (their place of origin) and Britain when they were irreparably damaged. Smith (2003) reports that the British Museum tried to polish the marbles in order to make them appear cleaner and whiter.

The 2,500-year-old treasure was severely damaged by the chemical components of the cleaning material, resulting in the loss of historical marks made by workers from that time and deformation of the marbles. This incident ignited a heated debate between two countries, which remains unresolved. While some artifacts can be relocated, there are others that cannot be moved from their original position. One such example is the cave painting of Lascaux. This painting has been preserved for centuries due to the specific climate conditions within the cave, including temperature and moisture levels influenced by the presence of water.

The caves are impacted by different external factors, such as camera flashes and human-emitted carbon dioxide. Consequently, access to the cave has been banned to prevent harm. These damages not only decrease the value of the items but also jeopardize their cultural importance, potentially leading to conflicts between cultures. To prevent irreparable damage and conflicts, it is recommended that cultural artifacts remain in their original locations.

The transportation of cultural artifacts can be seen as a difficult issue, but the controversy surrounding illegally obtained origins is what ignites the debate about rightful ownership. Some artifacts acquired as spoils of war or through repatriations lose their original cultural connection. In the United States, there are now government-owned artifacts created by Native Americans. As both Native Americans and US citizens are considered “American,” it raises the question of which culture these artifacts truly belong to. To address this problem, the US federal government introduced the Native American Graves Protections and Repatriation Act, which grants Native American tribes legal authority to reclaim artifacts from federally funded museums.

According to Annenberg Classroom (2012), the law mandates museums to both return sacred artifacts used for ceremonies and maintain an updated inventory of all items with Native American origins. The law was enacted due to the prevalence of these items being acquired either through undervalued purchases or theft without significant legal repercussions.

It is more difficult to address international issues compared to domestic problems, even though laws like this may help with the latter. The art world is greatly affected by events like war, especially when cultural artifacts are stolen or looted from their countries of origin. RT Question more (2013) mentions a news article which states that during the war, not only were thousands of cultural artifacts illegally obtained or looted, but billions of dollars were also transferred from Iraq’s Central banks to the United States without any documented records. An Iraqi architect estimated that around 35,000 small and large items disappeared from the National Museum of Iraq while it was being plundered for three days with no intervention from occupation forces.

The Iraqi government requested more than 1 billion dollars for the repatriation of Iraqi Artifacts, but the United States declined to respond, resulting in the anger of the Iraqi government. When cultural relics are forcefully taken from their country of origin, conflicts and negotiations regarding responsibility escalate. To avoid these hostile disputes and promote harmonious relationships between cultures and countries, it is preferable to return artifacts to their true origin before the situation becomes uncontrollable. Despite legal matters and difficulties in transportation, there is a simple rationale behind keeping artifacts within their country of origin: they represent their culture and way of life and can only be truly appreciated in their original context.

They are better appreciated and understood when staying within their historical background. However, removing artifacts from their original area makes it difficult or even prevents local residents from seeing and understanding their own cultural representatives, especially in third world countries that cannot afford to travel to foreign museums (Color Ur life, 2013). Additionally, keeping cultural artifacts within the country also has economic benefits. Tourism is a major economic boost for some countries, and keeping cultural artifacts increases the number of tourists, ultimately maintaining the countries’ economic stability.

Egypt’s economy relies exclusively on tourism. In 1990, Egypt’s GDP totaled $24 billion, with tourism contributing approximately 10% of it. Tourist revenue showed a consistent growth, escalating from $800 million in 1984 to $2.5 billion in 1989.

(TED Case Studies, 1997) The significance of priceless items extends beyond their economic value as they serve as a representation of a country’s unique history and provide valuable insights into specific regions. While some argue that cultural artifacts should be relocated to foreign areas, there are compelling reasons to preserve them within their country of origin. Advocates for spreading the artifacts globally argue that they contribute to our education by sharing a country’s history with the rest of the world. A blog from the website Color Ur life (2013) asserts that museums serve as important historical and cultural hubs.

They are one of the only places where thousands gather, either for vacation purposes or school/business trips, to learn about ancient civilization and to admire their cultural relevance. Not many would be willing to travel far to their places of origin to see these artifacts, thus keeping artifacts domestically would waste its educational potentials. However, taking out cultural relics from their country of origin is still problematic in many ways; damages done to them will reduce their value and thus waste its educational potential to a greater extent than if they were not seen by many people. Legal troubles also exist, and to prevent these problematic issues, it is best not to move these items around.

Overall, it is better for cultural artifacts to stay in their original location as they symbolize a particular culture and have the right to remain there. This not only prevents problems like legal issues, ownership disputes, and transportation/preservation damage but also enables us to fully appreciate their worth by experiencing them in their native country.

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Should Cultural artifacts remain at their places of Origin?. (2017, Apr 01). Retrieved from

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