Dinosaur Fossil and Tupinamba Mantle Return of Looted Artifacts Gains

Dinosaur Fossil and Tupinambá Mantle: Return of Looted Artifacts Gains Momentum in Brazil and the World G1

1 of 5 Ubirajara jubatus lived between 110 and 115 million years ago and is the oldest dinosaur in the Araripe Basin. In June, Germany returned the important fossil to Brazil. — Photo: advertisement Ubirajara jubatus lived 110 to 115 million years ago and is the oldest dinosaur in the Araripe Basin. In June, Germany returned the important fossil to Brazil. — Photo: Disclosure

A fossil of a newly discovered species of dinosaur, a cloak of red feathers more than 300 years old, and hundreds of native artifacts After decades abroad, these items of significant scientific and historical value are returning to the country where they were originally found: Brazil.

The returns, all announced last June (see below for more details), are part of a global movement to return historical, cultural and paleontological artifacts stolen during the colonial era or even smuggled in recent decades to their countries of origin.

Until recently, Brazil had no idea about this wave. However, two current facts promise to draw the country into the international debates on cultural heritage restitution:

“The growing number of successful negotiations for the restitution of cultural property around the world shows that this is an idea whose time has come,” he told the g1 the diplomat Marco Antônio Nakata, Director of the Guimarães Rosa Institute, an agency of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs specializing in cultural diplomacy.

Examples of current deals abroad:

  • In December, Germany returned to Nigeria its collection of socalled “Benin bronzes” looted during a British invasion in the late 19th century.
  • Months earlier, American authorities confiscated Roman and Egyptian antiquities from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met in New York) after investigations revealed they had been stolen — in 2019 the Met had already returned to Egypt a gold sarcophagus that went viral after a photo with Kim Kardashian and had also been smuggled.
  • Now, after a government committee recommended the “unconditional” return of looted cultural property in July, the Netherlands announced the return of nearly 500 artifacts to its former colonies in Asia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka (see map below for other controversial cases).

2 of 5 The German culture and foreign ministers hand over bronzes from Benin, which were in Germany, to the then foreign minister of Nigeria. According to the foreign minister, the return is part of an attempt to come to terms with Germany’s “dark colonial past”. — Photo: Olamikan Gbemiga/AP The German culture and foreign ministers hand over bronzes from Benin, which were in Germany, to the then foreign minister of Nigeria. According to the foreign minister, the return is part of an attempt to come to terms with Germany’s “dark colonial past”. — Photo: Olamikan Gbemiga/AP

“Repatriation negotiations that have a positive outcome today.” maybe they weren’t possible twenty or even ten years ago“Said Nakata from Itamaraty.

Restitution negotiations take place in different ways and do not always come from governments sometimes local communities demand the return of sacred objects or, in the case of fossils, mobilize the national scientific community (as was the case with Ubirajara jubatus). There are also cases where museums and universities return objects on their own initiative.

According to Letícia Haertel, Masters in Law and Specialist in International Cultural Heritage Law at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, Contact with cultural heritage is important not only for research purposes, but also for strengthening culture and building identity.

“When these objects are removed from their places of origin, they are often decontextualized and exoticized. Valuable information is lost,” she said g1.

Such is the case with one of the 11 Tupinambá mantles taken from Brazil in the 16th and 17th centuries and now part of European collections (more on this below). The specimen, housed in the Royal Museum of Art and History in Brussels, was wrongly classified as being of Mexican origin and was nicknamed “Capa de Montezuma”.

A few decades ago, requests for repatriation (return to the country of origin) and restitution (return of a specific artifact to a community, group, museum, institution or country) received little response in countries in Europe and North America.

“The oldest debate in the field of restitution takes place between two currents, that of cultural internationalism and that of cultural nationalism,” explains Haertel.

“At the beginning of these discussions, internationalism prevailed, which says that objects must be kept in places where they can be accessed by as many people as possible, namely in the socalled ‘universal museums’, such as the Louvre in Paris or the British Museum in London,” says the expert. “The premise of cultural nationalism a concept distinct from other concepts of ‘nationalism’ in other axes of analysis is that the objects remain in the country of origin and the country of origin decides their fate.”

The arguments of the proponents of keeping pieces in “universal museums” stem from the idea that there is an advantage in concentrating references from multiple cultures in a single place, thus enabling the observation of connections and differences between them. The infrastructure of these museums, which is said to be better suited to protecting these pieces, is also often mentioned.

In view of the increasing revision in the academic environment regarding the meaning and effects of colonization and the popularization of formerly peripheral voices in the artistic and political fields, More and more museums and even governments are questioning these arguments.

A turning point remembered by many pundits was French President Emmanuel Macron’s unexpected speech during a visit to Burkina Faso in 2017.

“I cannot accept that a large part of the cultural heritage of several African countries is kept in France. There are historical explanations for this, but no valid, enduring and unconditional justification,” he said.

On that occasion he also said that within five years he would like to create the conditions for the temporary or permanent return of the African collection to the countries of origin.

The speech sparked the production of research into the colonial collection held in France, in addition to an official report commissioned by the French government, encouraging other countries and museums to question how objects from their former colonies got into their collections. Between the 14th and 20th centuries, during colonialism and later imperialism, European countries such as Portugal, Spain, France, Holland, Germany and England invaded and occupied territories in America, Africa and Asia.

How one of the largest cultural institutions in the world works

Since 2020, one of the largest cultural institutions in the world, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which manages the most important museums in Berlin, has returned remains to New Zealand and Hawaii, more than 500 bronzes from Benin to Nigeria and another 24 artefacts to Namibia.

Now in June, the foundation also returned sacred masks of the Kogi people to Colombia presented in a ceremony with the presidents of both countries in midJune. The Colombian government, in turn, gave the objects to the indigenous population.

For Foundation President Hermann Parzinger, this movement can be traced back to “growing social awareness of colonial history”. For the g1He explained that the Foundation’s previous experience in dealing with the return of artistic, ethnographic and paleontological pieces looted by the Nazis in several countries during World War II also made a difference.

“For us it is relatively normal for a museum to deal with the question: how did these objects get into the collection? Was that particular object taken illegally, by force, looted? So we should return it regardless of the historical context,” he said.

When questioned about reports of two of the most famous pieces in the museums he manages the bust of Nefertiti, discovered by German archaeologists in Egypt in 1912 and claimed in the past by Egyptian authorities, and the Pergamon Altar, a huge marble structure taken in its entirety from Turkey, which has also tried to retrieve the piece Parzinger says none of these were stolen and that there are no official requests from the respective governments for their return.

“We cannot generally say that an object from Rwanda, Bolivia or Korea that is in Germany is illegal from the outset and should be returned. That would be crazy. A Brazilian museum could therefore only show Brazilian art, and a German museum only German art. Those would be the most boring museums in the world and we would never learn anything about humanity,” said the director.

3 of 5 At a ceremony in Leiden on July 10, the Netherlands announced the return to Indonesia and Sri Lanka of hundreds of artifacts looted during the colonial era. The initiative was labeled a “historic moment” for IndonesiaNetherlands relations by an Indonesian official. Photo: Aleksandar Furtula/AP At a ceremony on July 10 in Leiden, the Netherlands announced the return to Indonesia and Sri Lanka of hundreds of artifacts looted during the colonial era. The initiative was labeled a “historic moment” for IndonesiaNetherlands relations by an Indonesian official. — Photo: Aleksandar Furtula/AP

Indeed, it is a complex debate. Mainly because many return negotiations take place between museums or between museums and communities. States are not always involved.

The United Nations (UN) Convention of 1970, ratified by both Brazil and Germany, is the instrument guiding negotiations between the countries. The treaty stipulates that, in addition to making the necessary reparations, the signatories must also take measures against the import, export and illegal transfer of cultural property.

However, the agreement is not retroactive, allowing some countries to decide whether or not to return a particular item based on the date they signed the treaty. There are also those that rely on ancient agreements signed between the dominant countries and their former colonies to justify ownership of certain items.

Diplomatic relations also play a role. Restitution cases help build a country’s “soft power” (the cultural and ideological influence that nations exert). The return of their cultural heritage to a former colony can be understood as a goodwill gesture aimed at renewing or strengthening ties. For countries in the Global South, demanding the return of objects with a strong symbolic value can be an opportunity to assert themselves politically.

“Decentralization is not about the goodwill of European countries,” says Rodrigo Christofoletti, professor of cultural heritage in the history department at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora. “Rather, it is an attempt to correct mistakes made during colonization and to preserve cultural capital lost over time.”

In many cases, repatriation, i.e. returning to the country of origin, is only a first step which in turn is not always sufficient.

“Repatriation is important, but return is even more important because it gives local communities access to their heritage, which is often unknown to them,” says paleontologist Juan Cisneros, a professor at the Federal University of Piauí who was instrumental in the return of the Ubirajara jubatus fossil.

“If people don’t know their heritage, how are they supposed to appreciate it? The heritage must be close to the people,” he says.

Letícia Haertel agrees that the debate must not end with the arrival of the object on national territory. For them, the voices of the communities at the point of origin of a given artifact should be crucial in defining its final destination.

“This dialogue needs to start before the actual return request because many communities have demands that vary or go beyond just physical return,” she explains.

Unlike neighbors like Mexico and its fight to return the Cocar de Montezuma, or Colombia and its attempt to recover the Quimbaya Treasure, Brazil does not make famous restitution claims which can be a bit strange considering the existence of more than 300 indigenous peoples, three centuries of colonial rule and the forced arrival of thousands of people of African descent on Brazilian territory.

It turns out that Brazil just doesn’t know what it has in collections scattered around the world. There are still no national surveys of goods originally found on Brazilian territory that are currently abroad.

“We still do not have consolidated data on the amount of cultural objects to be repatriated, but Brazil has committed to dialogue in order to sign cooperation agreements for the repatriation of objects,” the culture ministry replied g1.

The Institute for National Historical and Artistic Heritage (Iphan) has the Bank of Cultural Goods Wanted (BCP), which covers archaeological goods as well as stolen, stolen, or missing goods listed in a federal instance. More than 1,640 items are on the list.

In 2018, a FrancoBrazilian delegation made up of indigenous specialists and academics was received in two French museums (the Quai Branly in Paris and the Museum of Toulouse) to carry out an inventory of objects of Amazonian origin. The COLAM project (Collections of Others and Memories of Encounters: Ethnographic Objects, Plants and Narrative) identified 15 collections containing objects with incomplete documentation related to the MebêngôkreKayapó people.

In 1999, 2,800 pieces of Amazonian origin had already been identified in the collections of 53 French museums, but the Quai Branly, which has one of the most important ethnographic collections in France, had not yet carried out an inventory of this type.

This scenario of the relative absence of Brazilian demands should change when Brazil joins for the first time in history the international committee responsible for overseeing the 1970 Unesco Convention.

“The great value of the Brazilian seat is that we as a country have access to information and the needs of an area that we have absolutely supported,” says Professor Christofoletti.

One of the Brazilian intentions on the committee is to expand the list of items protected by the convention to include, for example, uninventoried fossils.

The return of Brazilian fossils and the victory in the Ubirajara case

4 of 5 Cretapalpus vittari pays homage to the Brazilian singer who lived in the Cariri of Ceará 122 million years ago. The fossil was delivered to Brazil by an American university. — Photo: The Journal of Arachnology/Reproduction Cretapalpus vittari pays homage to the Brazilian singer who lived in the Cariri of Ceará 122 million years ago. The fossil was delivered to Brazil by an American university. — Photo: The Journal of Arachnology/Reproduction

It is precisely the fossils that have attracted the most attention and mobilized demands for restitution, especially since the fall of Ubirajara jubatus.

In 2020, German researchers, without the participation of Brazilians, published an article in a scientific journal in which they described a new species of dinosaur based on a fossil found in the Cariri region of Ceará. Since all fossils have been considered Union property since 1942 and cannot be transported outside the country without government approval, the publication caught the attention of the paleontological community in Brazil.

Paleontologist Aline Ghilardi, from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, launched an online return campaign that exerted such pressure that the German museum where the fossil was found was forced to delete its profile on a social network. The Prosecutor General’s Office in Ceará launched a procedure to investigate the play’s departure from the country. Itamaraty and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation have also started talks with the Germans.

Amid growing doubts about the legality of acquiring the fossil, the journal pulled the German researchers’ work out of thin air. Another key initiative was the partnership between Brazilian scientists and scientists from other countries to publish scholarly articles on colonial practices in paleontology, thus integrating the debate into the academic environment. Ghilardi and Juan Cisneros, two of the perpetrators, sent a letter to the responsible German authority, which undertook to investigate. Months later, in 2022, she announced her decision to return Ubirajara eventually returning in June of that year.

“From a political point of view, it’s a win, respect for our science, our researchers and Brazilian laws,” said Hermínio Ismael de Araújo Jr., President of the Brazilian Paleontological Society. for the g1. “It also signals that we can obtain more materials and thereby increase the appreciation of our museums, cultural institutions and our science.”

Last year Italy also returned a fossil of a fish that lived in the Araripe Basin (PI, CE and PE) 100 million years ago. The piece, estimated at almost 3,000 euros, was sold illegally on an auction site which still happens frequently.

France recently confiscated several fossils of Brazilian origin that were due to be auctioned. Two batches, one containing 998 items and the other containing 46 items (mainly insects and fish) are being returned.

“These are very rare pieces of unique quality. They really handpicked what should be traded. And we’re talking about trade: it was confiscated in a container that went to France as if it were quartz,” says Alysson Pinheiro, director of the Museum of Paleontology Plácido Cidade Nuvens, of the collection of 998 fossils, including dinosaurs, turtles and birds.

Also in France is the virtually complete fossil of a 112millionyearold pterosaur found at Araripe. The application for repatriation has not yet been granted. The Federal Ministry for Public Violence in Ceará initiated an investigation into the three cases.

“We are seeking cooperation with the authorities of the countries to carry out the search, the seizure and later the repatriation. Some situations are easier because we have bilateral criminal cooperation treaties.”

There are also other cases where the MPFCE examined fossils that were not returned, one in Italy, another in South Korea and a set of 60 pieces in Germany.

“The credit for the discovery and the prestige goes to institutions in the Global North, which continue to receive funds and resources that could be allocated to institutions and researchers in the country of origin. The opportunity to decentralize global knowledge production and to distribute resources more fairly is lost,” explains Letícia Haertel, an expert on monument law.

The Tupinambá coat and the rethinking of the curatorial body

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Tupinambás coats in Europe

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Last month, the National Museum of Denmark announced the return of one of five Tupinambá cloaks from its collection. The specimen, which has been in the country for about 300 years, is considered extremely rare as it is one of the best preserved specimens and its red guará feathers (a typical bird of the Atlantic coast) are sewn into a net using an ancestral technique of the Tupinambá people.

Talks about returning the coat, planned for 2024, have involved the Brazilian ambassador to Denmark, Rodrigo de Azeredo Santos, and the National Museum (in Rio de Janeiro), but most notably the Tupinambá community of Serra do Padeiro, located in the asyetundemarcated indigenous land of Tupinambá Olivença (Bahia).

Since 2018, the artist and anthropologist Glicéria Tupinambá from Olivença has been conducting research that has led her on a pilgrimage to European museums to personally discover and listen to the sacred objects that their ancestors made centuries ago. His discoveries feed into the research of a network made up of museums with Tupinambá mantles.

“It’s listening, I do this ancient listening to objects,” she says, who has found bone flutes in Copenhagen and tupinamba trumpets in Holland.

5 out of 5 Gliceria Tupinambá encountering her ancestral coat at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen in 2022. Professor of Ethnography and Ethnology at the Department of Anthropology of the National Museum (URFJ)

According to Chief Babau of Serra do Padeiro, the Tupinambá do not necessarily intend to advocate for the return of all items.

The National Museum, curated by João Pacheco de Oliveira, has worked to reassemble its collection while also listening to the indigenous and Quilombola communities the original owners of the knowledge, techniques and meaning of objects considered ethnographically valuable by white society.

One of the most famous cases of community restitution in Brazil is that of the “Mahadinha Krahô”. In 1986, the Krahô, a people living in northeastern Tocantins, went to the Museu Paulista at the University of São Paulo (USP) to retrieve a crescentshaped stone ax relevant to their traditions. At first, the museum suggested making a replica and delivering it to the Krahô, but they did not accept. Negotiations lasted three years before the museum decided to return it.

“What is the value of such an object in a museum display case?” asks Christofoletti. “We are in a moment of new actions by museums, a joint curatorship and a joint engagement with those who know about spaces and museographic objects.