British Museum provides first estimate of stolen artifacts

Around 2,000 items are believed to have disappeared from the storages, the chair of the board of trustees has revealed

Around 2,000 historical artifacts, thought to be worth tens of millions of pounds, have been stolen from the British Museum’s vault, according to an estimate by George Osborne, the chair of the institution’s board of trustees.

The London-based institution revealed earlier this month that a collection of jewelry gems dating from the 15th century BC to the 1800s disappeared from the storages, where they were kept for academic and research purposes.

I will give you an estimate of around 2,000. But I have to say that’s a very provisional figure,” Osborne told the BBC on Saturday.

He added that, although some items had been recovered, it was “a silver lining to a dark cloud.”

Osborne acknowledged that the reputation of the museum, which holds treasures such as iconic marble sculptures from the Greek Parthenon, has been damaged. He argued, however, that the stolen objects were “small items of jewelry, gems and bits of gold,” rather than “the incredible items that we have on display in public.” He added that the museum has taken steps to improve security, while the staff was focusing on “cleaning up the mess” and cataloging the missing artifacts. 

On Friday, museum’s director Hartwig Firscher resigned from his post, admitting that adequate measures had not been taken to prevent the theft.

The custodians were first alerted in February 2021, when antique dealer Ittai Gradel sent a notice that the items from a collection donated to the museum in 1814 were posted for sale on Ebay. The claims were dismissed at the time as “an outright lie,” with Fischer later saying that “our investigation concluded that those items were all accounted for.”

Former curators have criticized the British Museum for not keeping proper catalogs and “incredibly poor”

In light of the theft, Greece renewed calls to return the Parthenon marbles that were removed from Athens in the 19th century, arguing that the British Museum can no longer say that “Greek cultural heritage is more protected” there than in Greece. Britain, however, refused to return the sculptures, citing legal hurdles.

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