skip to content

Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology


In 2017, the University of Cambridge hosted a meeting of the Benin Dialogue Group (BDG), which brings together European museums and representatives of the Government of Nigeria and the Royal Court of Benin. Since then, the University's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) has supported the BDG commitment to returning work to a major new museum in development in Benin City.

In 2019, MAA, and the University of Cambridge Museums consortium, developed a new framework for the return of artefacts. The policy notes that consideration will be given to whether artefacts were 'appropriated in the aftermath of violence, for example in the context of a colonial intrusion or war'.

Over recent years, MAA staff have visited Benin City, and Benin representatives have visited Cambridge. A planned visit by Benin representative, Enotie Ogbebor, to study MAA collections was deferred following the Coronavirus lockdown. The MAA has since received a formal claim for the return of Benin works from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments, which is now under consideration using the process set out in the policy. Given the published criteria, it is anticipated that the claim will be supported and steps taken to return the artefacts.

Professor Nicholas Thomas, Director of the MAA, said: “The dialogue over the last few years between MAA curators and colleagues in Nigeria has been extraordinarily rewarding. We welcome the claim from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments, the opportunities this process presents, as a university museum committed to working internationally, in partnership."

Benin Dialogue Group Statement: October 2021

The latest statement from the Benin Dialogue Group is as follows:

"The Benin Dialogue Group met at the British Museum, London on 25 October 2021.

The members confirmed as Co-Chairs, Abba Tijani - Director General of the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments, HRH Prince Aghatise Erediauwa, and Dr. Barbara Plankensteiner.

Members included representatives from museums and institutions in Nigeria, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Sweden. The Group heard presentations from the Director General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (Nigeria), from Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, from representatives of the Benin Royal Court on behalf of His Royal Majesty Oma N'Oba N'Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II, Oba of Benin, and from the Executive Director of Legacy Restoration Trust - all of whom are actively collaborating to inform the direction and outcomes of current initiatives in Benin City. The members shared information on current activity, including national and institutional developments regarding the return and restitution of Benin works to Nigeria, and to discuss future initiatives focused on Benin City.

In addition, the Group recieved an update on the progress of the Digital Benin project that aims to globally unite dispersed objects from the Kingdom of Benin on a single digital platform. All museums represented in the Benin Dialogue Group are participating in this project thus achieving one of the long-standing goals of the BDG in providing access to information on collections from the Kingdom of Benin around the world. The group discussed intiatives working towards the development of the museum landscape in Benin City.

The BDG intends to meet in late 2022/2023 either in benin City, Nigeria or Hamburg, Germany."

Two million years of human history. One million artefacts. Countless astonishing stories.