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Why it’s Important to Return Looted Artifacts

The promise to return several Benin Bronzes from three Western institutions to the former Kingdom of Benin in Nigeria was celebrated by many. But returning all the artifacts looted by British soldiers 125 years ago will continue to be a challenge. In recent weeks, a university in Scotland and museums in Germany and Britain pledged to repatriate the Benin Bronzes they own. The restitution is hugely symbolic to Timothy Awoyemi, a British-born Nigerian who helped repatriate two Benin Bronzes in 2014 from a private collector whose grandfather had been part of the 19th century looting. Awoyemi says he was elated when he heard about the latest returns. “They stole it so it makes me happy, because the stolen artifacts are going to be returned back to where they rightly belong,” he said.  British soldiers looted the Kingdom of Benin in what is currently Edo state in Nigeria, during a punitive military expedition in 1897. The high valued plaques, masks and sculptures functioned as an historical archive to the Benin royal palace. The sculptures made of brass, bronze and ivory are now owned and displayed across Western museums and institutions.