Case Index

This index is a prototype of a more comprehensive resource that will create metadata and collect primary source documents for hundreds of cultural property cases, worldwide, from the past two centuries. Information in the metadata fields can be searched, and will enable quantitative analysis of their bases, status, outcomes, and trends. Primary sources identified in the index will be linked to documents (examples) housed on this site.

Click here to access and search the Case Index


The term “case” refers to any past, current, or likely future voluntary return of, formal inquiry into, or legal claim for an antiquity or other object of purported cultural significance to a source nation.

Each of the indexed cases involves two basic elements:

  1. A tangible object of long-standing purported cultural significance to one nation that is presently in another nation, without authorization from the “source” nation;
  2. A plausible legal or ethical basis for the return of the object to the source nation.

The objects involved in these cases can be classified within one of the following three categories:

  • Documented located objects – Claims from source nations for the return of a specific object, or objects, known to be in foreign custody. These claims are not limited to those based on allegations of illegal acquisition through looting or theft. They include, therefore, arguably rhetorical claims like those for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece and the Rosetta Stone and Bust of Nefertiti to Egypt.
  • Documented unlocated objects – Claims from source nations for the return of objects believed to have been taken out of the country, but whose current location is unknown. These claims include those relating to objects that have been:
    1) Plundered from museums or historic sites leading up to, during, or following armed conflict or civil unrest; Or
    2) Discovered to have been illicitly removed from a source nation during peacetime.

    Claims include those made for specific, well-documented objects (e.g., Iraq National Museum, Baghdad in 2003 and the Egyptian Museum, Cairo in 2011), as well as broad claims (e.g., “Anything Syrian”).

  • Objects returned without overt solicitation by the source nation – These cases involve sua sponte return to source nations of objects held by foreigners. Examples include donations by the Getty of antiquities to Italy, and those by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science of wood carvings to Kenya; as well as returns, by customs officials, of items confiscated upon belief that they were illegally exported from a source nation.