Calls for British Museum to return ancient artefacts to Wales

Pressure continues to mount on the British Museum as repatriation calls grow, this time from Wales. Rhys Williams reports

Welsh items held in the British Museum should be returned to Wales, Plaid Cymru has said.

It comes after almost 2,000 artefacts were allegedly stolen from the London museum.

Calls have come from across the world to repatriate ancient artifacts, but now MP Liz Saville Roberts and MS Heledd Fychan have said that Cardiff is the safest place for Welsh treasures such as the 4,000 year-old Mold Gold Cape and the Rhos Rydd Shield.

Speaking to ITV News, Heled Fychan said: "I think there should be a conversation about access to collections, and I think we need to have that conversation because these objects can still be viewed and you can have replicas in different places.

"We want to see the story of Wales told everywhere, but where better to tell it than here in Wales with the original objects."

Welsh Senedd member, Heledd Fychan argues that Wales is the best placed to showcase it's own history. Credit: ITV News

Ms Saville Roberts said the argument that artefacts are safer in London "simply, obviously, isn't true".

"At the time (the artefacts were found) it was perfectly rational for them to go to the British Museum because there was nowhere else for them to go.

"They aren't safe there, they're effectively being hoarded there."

Calls have been made for the return of the Rhos Rydd Shield that is housed in the British Museum. Credit: ITV News

The British Museum has previously argued that items were safer in London than elsewhere.

Officials at the National Museum of Wales have said that repatriation issues should be treated separately from concerns regarding security.

A significant portion of the artifacts housed in the British Museum from Wales were sent there before Wales had its own national museum.

Although not explicitly requesting their return, the National Museum of Wales suggests that items of national significance should be accessible and appreciated by Welsh communities.

The British Museum director Hartwig Fisher resigned this after it was revealed about 2,000 artefacts had been stolen from the Museum.

This incident has reignited long-standing arguments about the repatriation of ancient artifacts, such as the Benin Bronzes and the Elgin Marbles.

Amgueddfa Cymru, the National Museum of Wales, has said repatriation and security should be treated as separate issues. Credit: ITV News

Dr Evangelos Kyriakidis, director of the Greek Heritage Management Organisation, said: "These arguments (surrounding safety) aren't as strong now on the side of the British Museum. Not only because Greece has rebuffed them, but because of the much bigger issue that the museum has shown that it is not a safe custodian of these artefacts."

The British Museum is bound by the 1963 British Museum Act, which prohibits the removal of its artifacts - something Rishi Sunak doubled down on in face of repatriation requests earlier this year.

The clash between preserving a global cultural heritage hub and respecting the rightful ownership of ancient artifacts is a challenge that continues to test the British Museum.

As international and domestic calls for repatriation gain momentum, the future of these priceless treasures hangs in the balance, leaving many to ponder the delicate balance between cultural preservation and justice.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.