The Quest to Uncover Ethiopian Artifacts: British Museum Investigates Colonial Loot


The King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum in Lancaster, UK, has embarked on a significant project to identify artifacts in its collection that were looted from Ethiopia during the 19th-century Abyssinian campaign. Eyob Derillo, a specialist in Abyssinian history, has been enlisted to help determine the origins of these culturally significant objects.

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This initiative responds to increasing calls, including from Ethiopian representatives and UK supporters like a former Archbishop of Canterbury, for the return of treasures taken by British forces. These artifacts, some of which are sacred to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, include sacred texts and objects associated with Abyssinian royalty.

The museum, honoring a disbanded British regiment, aims to explore not only the British soldiers’ experiences but also the perspectives of their adversaries. This inclusive approach seeks to present a comprehensive account of the 1868 British invasion of Abyssinia, a conflict marked by the sacking of Magdala, the death of Emperor Tewodros II, and the looting of revered items.

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Among the potential looted items, the museum might possess a piece of shirt used to clean the blood of Tewodros II. Notably, a lock of hair from his son, Prince Alemayehu, was recently returned to Ethiopia.

This project is part of a broader movement to address colonial-era injustices, emphasizing the need for historical accuracy and cultural sensitivity in museum displays and artifact ownership. The museum’s collaboration with Ethiopian stakeholders highlights a growing trend toward restitution and reconciliation in the handling of historical artifacts.

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