Menu Menu

British Museum worker sacked over missing items

Reports that a museum employee was sacked over missing items has triggered jibes on social media, as netizens compare the theft with imperialist history of the artefacts themselves. 

A senior curator at the British Museum has been sacked over missing items. Peter Higgs worked on the museum’s Greek collections, and was dismissed after semi-precious stones and glass dating from the 15th century BC were reported stolen or damaged.

Besides the general controversy surrounding Higgs’ behaviour, the internet has erupted with jokes about the British Museum’s colonial history, drawing comparisons between its past behaviour and Higgs’ theft.

The British Museum’s collection is world-famous and houses a vast range of prized historical artefacts – but the large majority of these items were forcibly taken from their original homes.

Through colonial conquest and imperialism, the BM is one of many British institutions that has built its reputation as a bastion of ‘British’ culture.

One of the most infamous of these stolen artefacts is the Benin Bronzes, which were looted from Benin following a British naval attack in 1897. The subject of their provenance – and the ongoing fight to return them to their rightful home – was the subject of Dan Hicks’ 2020 book ‘The Brutish Museums’.

Higgs’ dismissal as senior curator has thus ignited conversations that touch upon far more than just inventory control. Social media is drawing parallels to the museum’s colonial conquests, raising vital questions about accountability, ownership, and the fraught legacies of imperialism.

Response from the museum has focused largely on Higg’s actions and the internal strategic failings.

Museum director Hartwig Fischer said the museum would ‘throw our efforts into the recovery of objects,’ adding: ‘this is a highly unusual incident. I know I speak for all colleagues when I say that we take the safeguarding of all the items in our care extremely seriously.’

Fischer’s response has only drawn more mockery online.

‘Getting in trouble for stealing from the British Museum is like getting nicked for eating Hannibal Lecter,’ one X user said.

‘So, somebody has allegedly stolen items that were already stolen? Did they just try and repatriate them without approval?’ another quipped.

Some argue that the missing items are just another layer of the museum’s troubled legacy, reflecting the power imbalances and cultural arrogance that have characterised the history of its acquisitions.

The British Museum’s handling of this incident offers an opportunity for reflection. It has the potential to redefine its role in a rapidly changing world. Will it remain stuck in a past it’s determined to deny, or become a living testament to growth and transformation?

In an era where conversations about restitution are gaining momentum, this incident forces us to confront the moral imperative of righting historical wrongs.