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Berlin moves forward on plans to return looted Benin Bronzes

June 29, 2021 GMT

BERLIN (AP) — Berlin’s museums authority is moving forward with plans to return to Nigeria artifacts known as the Benin Bronzes, saying Tuesday that it aims to make “substantial” handovers next year.

The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, an authority that oversees many of Berlin’s museums, said its board gave the foundation’s president, Hermann Parzinger, formal permission to conduct negotiations on returning pieces that are in its collection.

That followed a wider decision at the end of April for German museums to work on a restitution plan with museums and authorities in Nigeria.

A British colonial expedition looted vast numbers of treasures from the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin in 1897, including numerous bas-reliefs and sculptures.

While hundreds of artifacts ended up in the British Museum, hundreds were also sold to other collections such as the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, which has one of the world’s largest collection of historical objects from the Kingdom of Benin, estimated to include about 530 items — including 440 bronzes.

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The British Museum has said it doesn’t currently have plans to return parts of its collection.

The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation’s board said that “the aim should be substantial returns in 2022 already.”

Parzinger said in a statement that the Berlin museums also want to discuss with Nigeria “how we can show Benin Bronzes in Germany,” including in Berlin’s Humboldt Forum, a newly built complex that will house much of the city’s overseas collections.