Germany to return Benin Bronzes looted during colonial era

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BERLIN — Germany is returning hundreds of artifacts known as Benin Bronzes that were mostly looted from western Africa by a British colonial expedition and subsequently sold to collections around the world, including German museums, authorities said Friday.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas welcomed a deal reached with museums to work on a plan for the restitution of the artifacts together with Nigeria, calling it a “turning point in dealing with our colonial history.”

Germany’s minister for culture, Monika Gruetters, said the Benin Bronzes were a key test for the way the country deals with its colonial past.

“We are confronting our historic and moral responsibility,” she said.

Gruetters said the goal is to contribute to “understanding and reconciliation” with the descendants of those whose cultural treasures were stolen in colonial times. The first returns are planned for next year, she said.

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. Many of the artifacts ended up in the British Museum, though hundreds were also sold to other collections.

The Ethnological Museum in Berlin 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.

The Associated Press