The British Museum recently fired an employee for stealing and damaging several collection items. Most of the objects taken were jewels and jewelry not on display but kept by the museum for research. Some pieces were only about a hundred years old, while others date back to the fifteenth century BCE. A museum spokesperson commented that they are attempting to recover the stolen items and review their security procedures. The museum is also taking legal action against the former employee. The Economic Crime Command of the London Metropolitan Police is currently investigating the case. The value of the stolen and damaged works has yet to be determined.
Theft at the British Museum is nothing new. In such a massive, unwieldy institution, some things will get overlooked. Most recently, in 2017, the museum acknowledged that a Cartier ring diamond valued at £750,000 went missing in 2011. The museum also had an ancient Greek statue stolen in 2002 and a theft of Roman coins in 1993. The situation’s irony was not lost on some. Several objects kept at the British Museum were stolen and plundered from warzones and Britain’s colonial holdings over the centuries. So, the fact that the museum administration has become so incensed by an employee stealing something is perhaps a little amusing. Dan Hicks, an Oxford archaeology professor, commented, “We will throw our efforts into recovering the stolen goods that we previously stole”. Who knows? Maybe this incident will give museum higher-ups a little empathy for Greek people who seek the return of the Elgin Marbles, or Nigerian people who have asked for the return of the Benin Bronzes. Sir Nigel Boardman, a former British Museum trustee now overseeing the museum security review, remarked, “The British Museum has been the victim of theft”. Well Sir Boardman, now you know how it feels.