Benin Bronzes on display at the British MuseumJoyofmuseums

The Museum of Archeology and Anthropology (MAA) has received a formal claim from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments for the repatriation of artefacts taken in the 1897 looting of Benin City.

The claim, made in January 2022, is now under consideration by the University, although no timeline has been given. An MAA press release seen by Varsity states that “given the published criteria, it is anticipated that the claim will be supported and steps taken to return the artefacts.”

The artefacts included relate to a British raid of 1897 against the Kingdom of Benin, in what is now southern Nigeria. Benin City was captured and looted, with many pillaged artefacts now in museums around the world.

Professor Nicholas Thomas, the museum’s director, said: “The dialogue over the last few years between MAA curators and colleagues in Nigeria has been extraordinarily rewarding.”

“We welcome the claim from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments, the opportunities this process presents, as a university museum committed to working internationally, in partnership.”

The formal claim comes after years of discussion between the Benin Dialogue Group (BDG), which brings together Europeans museums and representatives of the Government of Nigeria, and the Royal Court of Benin.

In 2017, the University of Cambridge hosted a meeting of the BDG. Since then, the MAA has supported the group’s commitment to the return of artefacts to a major new museum being developed in Benin City.


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In 2019, MAA, and the University of Cambridge Museums consortium, developed a new policy for the return of artefacts. It notes that consideration will be given to whether objects were “appropriated in the aftermath of violence, for example in the context of a colonial intrusion or war”.

Over recent years, MAA staff have visited Benin City, and Benin representatives have visited Cambridge. A planned visit by one Benin representative, Enotie Ogbebor, to study MAA collections was deferred following the Coronavirus lockdown.

Benin artefacts in the museum’s collection which were not acquired as a result of the 1897 expedition are excluded from the claim.

The formal claim comes just months after Jesus College became the first institution in the world to return a Benin bronze, coming after five years of discussion over its future.