Was Looting Symbols of Deities Such a Good Idea?

Mexico is suffering from the looting of their historical artifacts.  According to the BBC report the spectacular headdress of Mexico’s last Aztec ruler, Moctezuma showcased at Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology is a replica.

                                                                                                                                                               *The original lies thousands of kilometers away in a collection at Vienna’s Ethnology Museum. Mexico has long wanted to see the original returned

It is a shame that the natives do not get to see or showcase artifacts of their own land. Looting of artifacts has been on going for a long time. Especially before and after the world wars, a lot of artifacts have been taken from their original locations.

**A magnificent 3500 years old Hittite Sphinx had been unearthed around 1906 in Turkey. It was considered one of the greatest discoveries. The Sphinx had been taken to Berlin to be restored, not to be kept, only to be restored, yet had never been returned and was still in the Pergamon Museum until recently. Turkey’s minister for culture Ertugrul Gunay had to give an ultimatum that German archeologists will not be allowed to continue, digging in Turkey, if they do not return the Sphinx.

It worked. Germany decided to return the master piece to Turkey.  One could argue that these items are universal treasures and it should not matter where they are displayed, as long as future generations get to see them, but it is hard to know who would be a better guard.

***Forty giant statues, were taken from a temple in the ancient settlement of Tell Halaf in what is now northern Syria, by German adventurer and diplomat Baron Max von Oppenheim, and caused a sensation when they came to Europe. Baron exposed them to a private museum in Berlin between 1930 and November 1943 when an allied bombing destroyed the place. The fire roasted artifacts of basalt, and water used to douse the flames caused the material to splinter into a thousand pieces.

They have recently been reassembled, after nine years of reassembling effort of 25 000 pieces. That was probably the most rewarding puzzle to be completed. The Pergamon Museum in Berlin presented the restored objects.

The point is that if they had remained in Syria, they would have been safe during World War II which is when they were destroyed.

Artifacts looted during that period are still being discovered, some of which are being returned to their rightful owners. ****According to the New York Times article, 370-year-old painting that belonged to a Jewish art dealer who fled the Netherlands around the time of the Nazi invasion in 1940 will be returned to his family by the J. Paul Getty Museum. (The Associated Press reported.)

The painting, “Landscape With Cottage and Figures,” done by Pieter Molijn around 1640, belonged to Jacques Goudstikker, a prominent dealer who died in a fall on a ship while fleeing the Nazis with his wife and son. His collection was looted, and some of the art ended up in the hands of the Nazi leader Hermann Goering, according to the Associated Press report.

In a written statement released Monday, museum officials stated: “Working in cooperation with representatives of the Goudstikker heirs, the Getty’s research revealed that the painting was in Goudstikker’s inventory at the time of the invasion in 1940, and that it was never restituted after World War II. Based on its findings, the Getty concluded that the painting should be transferred to the heirs.”

It sounds fair that the painting gets returned to the heirs of the original owner. Maybe the same principle should be applied to all looted artifacts and they should all be returned to their rightful claimers.

One of the world wonders had been removed from Turkey, Halicarnassus .The Halicarnassus Mausoleum had been shipped to England decades ago and is on display at the British Museum. Legend says that a Halicarnassus fisherman was very sad while the artifact was being uprooted from where it had been built around 350 BC, by architects Pytheos, Satyrus.  Skopas, Timotheos, Bryaris Leochares were the famous sculptors to work on the sides. It had been built by the Karian, who used to reside in the area at the time. (An ancient Western Anatolian Civilization) They worshipped the Anatolian Goddess Hecate. Ancient Egyptians  called the Karian” The bronze people who come out of the heart of the sea”. The fisherman said that the artifact will miss its home, miss the sea. They said “No worries we will paint the room that is displayed in blue.” It was blue for a while and then everyone forgot.

Looted items seem to be returned to their original spots. Who knows maybe one of these days headdress of Mexico’s last Aztec ruler, might find its way home or the Mausoleum might find its way back to Halicarnassus.

Most of the artifacts of ancient times, mean more than art, as they represent spiritual beliefs of the time. The forty giant statues, clearly did not agree with their new location, after being removed from Syria. Did bombs destroy them or did they destroy Berlin for all the cruelty happening at the time.

Who knows?

Mankind is still cruel and the hope is that one day that shall change.

The world is going through floods, wars, Tsunamis…. Would returning ancient spiritual objects home, be a symbol of the end of looting and help Aztec, Karian or other deities put the world right?

Maybe or maybe not, the point is that having looted artifacts decades ago, should not be an excuse for holding on to them.

Follow me on twitter@banugokyar








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