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Edinburgh University sit on fence (06/07/04)

07 July 2004

Glasgow Herald

University may return looted texts to Ethiopia


AN African government's plea for the return of looted religious manuscripts held by Edinburgh University is to be determined by a special panel of experts. A committee is to be set up to decide if the request by Ethiopian ministers meets guidelines approved yesterday at a meeting of the university's court to deal with repatriation of items from its collections. Helen Hayes, university vice-principal and librarian, said last night it might be necessary to ask for more information from those behind the call to return the texts plundered by British troops about 130 years ago. "We want to make sure the people who make an application have the authority to do that," she said. There also has to be proof of cultural, religious, or scientific importance of the items to those seeking their return, as well as a rigorous assessment of their importance to the university. Ms Hayes added: "The guidelines are there so we can deal with all requests in a responsible, clear and open way." The appeal, by the Ethiopian authorities and an organisation known as the Association for the Return of the Maqdala Ethiopian Treasures, centres on a number of holy manuscripts taken from the mountain fortress of Maqdala in 1867. Later, British troops loaded 200 mules and 15 elephants with gold crowns, swords, altar slabs, and manuscripts, the bulk making its way into institutions such as the British Museum, the Queen's Library in Windsor Castle, and Oxford's Bodleian Library. Edinburgh's manuscripts appear to have been given to the university by officers, or friends of officers, in the campaign. The parchments include two copies of the Book of Psalms, one portion of the gospels, and two texts detailing the acts of St George.


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