Artefacts should be returned to Wales as British Museum 'isn't safe', says Liz Saville Roberts

Welsh Artefacts in the British Museum should be returned to Wales, Plaid Cymru's Westminster leader has said.

The Mold Gold Cape and the Moel Hebog Shield are housed at the British Museum, but Liz Saville Roberts is calling for the them to be returned to Wales.

It follows other countries including Greece, India, and China who have also called for cultural artefacts that Britain acquired through colonialism to be returned to their countries of origin.

Previously, the British Museum had argued that items were safer at the Museum than elsewhere.

However, it was recently revealed that some 2000 artefacts had been stolen from the Museum, leading its director Hartwig Fischer to Resign.

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.

"What we have been told is that the British Museum is the safest place for them to be so don't ask for them back. Well that argument has just been blown out of the water. What we now know is that there are items being stored in store rooms. They haven't even been catalogued effectively. There isn't even CCTV to see if anyone is taking them out of these store rooms.

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

What is the Mold Gold Cape?

The artefact is a solid gold sheet cape decorated to mimic multiple strings of beads, dating back to the European Bronze Age.

It was found by workmen in a quarry in 1833 in Mold, Flintshire, and is thought to have been made around 1900-1600 BCE.

It was sold to the British Museum by the site's owner John Langford in 1936.

It is thought to have been used as part of a religious ceremony, and most likely worn by women due to its slight size.

The cape was found in a quarry in Mold, Flintshire, in 1833.

What is the Moel Hebog Shield?

It is a large, circular Bronze Age shield made out of copper alloy, found in Gwynedd.

Both the Mold Gold Cape and the Moel Hebog Shield are kept at the British Museum, but the latter is not on display for visitors to see.

"When I think about that Moel Hebog Shield that is being kept in a British Museum in a store room and whether it could be on display in Cardiff or kept out of sight in London- Cardiff wins every time." Ms Saville Roberts said.

"They can move around Wales. They can travel in virtual form. These discussions are something that we should be having here and shouldn't just be a matter that the British Museum has a veto to say no, this is our hoard and we're sitting on it."

Liz Saville Roberts says the argument that items are safer in London 'simply, obviously, isn't true'.

There are also some colonial artefacts housed in Wales. Powis Castle is home to the largest private collection of South and East Asian artefacts in the UK.

Ms Saville Roberts added: "There is a real discussion, is the best place for them to be hoarded in London as somehow a celebration of that looting of the British Empire or should we actually be returning them?"

"The British Empire doesn't exist anymore and neither does this idea that we are the best place to keep other people's treasures. The conversation needs to be had."

The cape was sold to the British Museum in 1936 by the site owner.

A British Museum spokesperson said: “The Mold Gold cape has been on loan to both Wrexham Museum and National Museum Wales in Cardiff in the past ten years, and it has been loaned internationally, as recently as 2021 to Halle in Germany.

“Six million people visit the Museum each year to experience this world-class collection, and the Mold Gold cape is on display to them all, for free, where it is a star piece in our Europe and Middle East Gallery."

They added: "The collection empowers visitors to navigate and understand the complex relationships between empires, nations and peoples whether through trade, conquest, conflict or peaceful exchange.”

An Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales spokesperson, said: “Amgueddfa Cymru has robust collections management procedures in place and continually reviews and improves these procedures on a regular basis.  

"Any losses, stolen items or objects for transfer and/or deaccession are reported to the museum’s Board of Trustees on a quarterly basis. Movement of objects between our seven sites and the National Collections centre is highly regulated as is the movement of objects to other institutions both in the UK and internationally. 

“Questions relating to the repatriation of objects from Wales are extremely complex and should be separated from those relating to security and care of our collections. The British Museum holds many archaeological objects from Wales. Most of these items were deposited at the British Museum before there was a National Museum in Wales – a gap of over 150 years. 

"Amgueddfa Cymru believe that it is important that any such objects of national significance should, where possible, be seen and enjoyed across all communities in Wales.  We work in partnership with museums across Wales to support the acquisition of collections of relevance and we have on occasion acquired objects in partnership with local museums.”

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