Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum Quietly Relinquishes Ownership of Five Looted Antiquities

Following an investigation published in August by The Chronicle of Higher Education that linked hundreds of items in the collection of Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum to known antiquities traffickers, the museum has quietly ceded ownership of several works, some of which have been repatriated to Italy. 

According to The Chronicle, less than a week after its investigation was published, the museum removed an ancient plate and a plate fragment from the online catalog and marked them for repatriation. Three pieces of pottery it once owned were also reassigned as works on loan from the Italian government. 

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No announcement was publicly made as to why the works were relabeled. Still, two academics who had been tracking the museum’s collection, discovered the changes and on Monday, October 30 posted the news to the blog Looting Matters.

“All five pieces arrived at the Carlos by way of people with documented ties to the illicit trade,” The Chronicle reported, and despite the absence of a public announcement, gallery labels have been placed next to the three items that remain in the museum’s collection identifying the change in ownership mean their illicit histories.

“Recent and ongoing research in collaboration with foreign government officials has confirmed that several objects in the museum’s Greek and Roman collection were looted and illegally exported,” the label says, according to The Chronicle. “Some of these objects have been repatriated to their countries of origin, while others remain with the museum as loans from those countries.”

While the newly placed signs say a full list of repatriated works would be available on the museum’s website, as of the publication of this article the list of repatriated works did not include the five Italian works.

Laura Diamond, an Emory spokeswoman, declined to answer The Chronicle’s questions about when or why the museum chose to relinquish ownership of the five works, but said the process would be made clear in forthcoming press releases. The museum did not immediately return a request for comment.

For years, museums across the United States have been forced to reckon with a long history of purchasing and displaying looted antiquities. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been the target of calls from both activists and government officials to return allegedly looted artefacts and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has seized dozens of artefacts worth millions of dollars from the museum.

The calls for repatriation extend far past the United States. In France, a court case involving an antiquities dealer who purchased of a rare mask from Gabon from an elderly couple for about $157 then sold the artefact for $4.4 million at auction has been met with demands from activists that the work be repatriated.

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