Native American artifacts-a story of loss, betrayal and survival

The next time you’re in a museum, and you see artifacts from Mexico, Africa, Pacific Islands, Indonesia, Native American, and so on, ask yourself—how did it get from “there” (the country of origin) to “here”—in this museum? Did the museum buy it from the native peoples where it is from? In many cases, it was looted/plundered/stolen/ill-acquired by a colonizing nation. It was common practice for the colonialists to collect souvenirs and artifacts of this “new” discovery or newly occupied territory. These artifacts were sent back and displayed in a museum or some other institution. Today it is common practice for museums to sell their artifacts to other museums or private collectors, who then, after some amount of time, sell or gift them back to another museum or collector, etc.

Eventually we find ourselves admiring one of those taken-bought-sold-resold-donated-gifted artifacts and wondering “Is this legitimately here or has it been “laundered” through the exchange of multiple owners?”

This assignment focuses on these issues as well as the excavation of ancient sites (sometimes burial grounds).


  • Images
    • You are required to use at least 4 artworks (include: artists, cultures/country, date) NOT from your textbook as examples throughout your writing. Please also include the image into the body of your essay, that way your writing will flow more smoothly. Do not include the images as separate documents.
  • Sources
    • Use at least 4 sources from the links that I have provided. You may use other sources; be sure that they are verifiable sites and not blogs or Wikipedia.
  1. Examples of antiquities/artworks

This is a brief list of some examples of artworks that are under the banner of “acquired by questionable means.” (You do not have to use these works of art- though they should serve as inspiration for research. And besides, there’s a ton more where these came from.)


  • The Gates of Babylon taken and distributed in museums throughout the world from Iraq
    • Marble reliefs from the Parthenon frieze taken by the British in the late 1700’s
    • Native American artifacts, of dubious origin, in museums donated by collectors
    • African artifacts from Benin (and countless other places in Colonized Africa)
    • Incan Peruvian Art taken by Yale scholar in 1911

………There are so many more….

  1. Use these articles to help guide your research.
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