We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

In Archaeology, what is Repatriation?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Historical Index is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Historical Index, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

In archeology, repatriation refers to returning cultural objects and human remains to their regions of origin. The issue of repatriation only really began to be raised in the 20th century, when many nations which have historically been exploited for their archaeological treasures began to request that some or all of these artifacts be returned. Advocates for repatriation argue that removing objects from their region of origin deprives people of their cultural heritage, while people who do not support repatriation believe that all people are entitled to appreciate the rich history of the human race.

There are a number of issues bound up with repatriation. One of the biggest issues is that of looted art and antiquities. Looting has been occurring for centuries, making it very hard to establish the provenance of artifacts. This is especially true in the case of artifacts which have been held for centuries by private owners or venerable institutions like the British Museum. The argument is that when objects are forcibly removed or sold in questionable circumstances, it deprives native peoples of their heritage and governments of potential control over such objects.

Another issue surrounds grave goods and human remains. Archaeologists find grave sites to be rich in cultural artifacts, allowing them to learn a great deal about ancient peoples, but in some cases, descendants of these people object to the study of grave sites, arguing that it violates the dead. These people would rather see such sites left undisturbed, or studied and then restored, and they object very strongly to the removal of grave goods and remains. This has been an especially large problem in the United States, where a special Repatriation Office handles concerns about American Indian remains.

Archeology has also been plagued with issues historically. Prior to the development of ethical codes in archeology, objects were often forcibly removed or stolen, especially from colonial subjects, and they were sometimes poorly handled and preserved. Advocates for repatriation argue that looted and stolen artifacts belong to the regions they came from, even if the cultures which created them are long dead.

Repatriation is also wrapped up in social and political issues. After the end of the Second World War, for example, a commission was established to restore objects of art looted by the Nazis to their rightful owners, and the commission uncovered a number of instances in which the provenance of the art was unclear. Citizens of developing nations argue that they have been essentially stripped of their culture as antiquities are removed and displayed in the developed world, while some people suggest that such artifacts are safer in the developed world, implying that the developed world is more politically stable and better equipped to handle the artifacts safely. This attitude can seem very patronizing to people who are trying to preserve the heritage and culture of their regions.

Arguments over repatriation can sometimes get violent. Protests have been staged around the world to advocate for the repatriation of especially treasured artifacts, and archaeologists have been arguing over the topic behind closed doors for decades. As a general rule, both sides want to see objects preserved, studied, cataloged, and sometimes displayed, but they disagree over who has the right to archaeological objects.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Related Articles

Discussion Comments

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
Historical Index, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Historical Index, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.