Even before the word "archaeology" was invented, people have been removing artifacts from their original context - or location. Objects have been taken to be sold for profit, saved as souvenirs, and put in museums. Often, historically important artifacts that have been placed in large, national museums have become points of national pride. Think of the Egyptian Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, or the Greek "Nike of Samothrace" at the Louve in Paris (the French call it the Winged Victory of Samothrace)
In the past few decades, some governments have politely asked for objects that they feel have been pillaged from their countries to be returned. During the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece attempted to pressure Great Britain for the return of the displaced Parthenon or "Elgin" marbles by announcing the building a brand new museum for them, the Acropolis Museum. Italy recently returned an obelisk that was taken from Ethiopia just before World War II.
Recently however, the demand for the return of these has taken a more formal, and perhaps less polite, turn. Egypt recently announced that it has decided to sue two museums, one in England and one in Belgium for the return two pharaonic relief - or tomb carvings. Egypt says that if the museums don't return the artifacts in question, archaeologists who work in those museums will not be allowed to continue digging in the "Land of the Pharaohs". Zahi Hawass, the director of Egypt's Supreme Council on Antiquities has made it his mission to have as many objects as possible returned to his home country as quickly as possible, especially the famous ones like the Rosetta Stone - which was the key to unlocking Ancient Egypt's hieroglyphic language.
Some archaeologists are nervous that the return of the Elgin marbles or the Rosetta Stone will open the "flood-gates" for the return of hundreds if not thousands of artifacts. Museums like the British Museum have argued that they not only promote scientific research on these objects, but having them in places like London, Paris, and New York allows millions of visitors to come and visit them every year. Others argue that it is important for countries to have the objects which reflect their cultural heritage and national history in their own museums.
What do you think? Where do these objects belong?