The British Museum has announced plans to team up with Nigerian officials to help “investigate the history of the Kingdom of Benin”, by digging for Royal treasures in the ancient city.
The organisation will also work with Nigerian teams on the creation of a new Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA) which could potentially house bronzes that were stolen from Benin during the Benin Expedition if and when the British Museum decides to return them.
The Benin bronzes are a group of more than 1,000 heirlooms, metal plaques and sculptures, which decorated the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin in what is now modern-day Nigeria.
They were looted by the British army during an invasion in 1897 when British troops razed the royal city to the ground to avenge the killing of an earlier force.
The newly-announced $4m (£3.04m) archaeological excavation represents one of the largest physical projects the British Museum has ever undertaken outside the UK. It will also be the most extensive ever undertaken in Benin City.
It comes after calls for it to return stolen artefacts including but not limited to Benin Bronzes, to the ancient city.
Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum said they were “honoured” to be working with colleagues from Edo State, the Benin Royal Palace, the Legacy Restoration Trust, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments of Nigeria, and Adjaye Associates on “this exciting project”.
“The British Museum’s main mission is to work in partnership with colleagues from around the world to develop our shared understanding of cultural heritage,” said Fischer.
The partnership project will be viewed by many as a positive way for the British Museum to work with all interested parties to increase knowledge about the kingdom from which the Benin Bronzes were taken; and potentially create a situation which could lead to some or all of them being returned.
The director general of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria Prof Abba USA Tijani added that they hoped the prior archaeological work “will lead to a greater understanding of the ancient kingdom of Benin”.
The archaeology project commences in 2021 and will continue for five years, to look for further royal treasures, and to enable the construction of the museum.