Parts of the Schøyen collection must be returned – NRK Kultur og underholdning

In August last year, Økokrim was seized almost a hundred cultural objects from the Norwegian businessman and great collector Martin Schøyen.

The objects are from ancient Mesopotamia, which today includes Iraq and parts of Syria and Turkey.

The Iraqi authorities believed that the objects had been transported out of the country illegally.

The items, along with nearly 700 others, have been wanted by Iraq since 2019.

Well confirm the report from the Ministry of Culture that this is true.

Martin Schøyen is a Norwegian businessman and collector of historical writings and other objects.


Håkon Roland from the Cultural History Museum says that what is common to all the objects is that there is no documentation that they have been taken out legally.

Håkon Roland, Art History Museum UiO

Håkon Roland at the Art History Museum has looked at the objects in the Schøyen collection.

Photo: University of Oslo / UiO

– In addition, several of the objects have come via actors who have previously been associated with objects with possible illegal history.

Most of the items were looted from Iraq in the 1980s and 1990s.

The export of a small part of the objects can be traced back to the 1950s, and some others from Afghanistan around 2001–2004.

– We have found traces of several objects that indicate that they have been cut down with modern machine tools. There is a picture that emerges here.

– There are fundamental errors

Last year, Schøyen disputed the legal basis for the seizure, and points out that the vast majority of the items were bought from reputable collectors.

Schøyen’s lawyer, Cato Schiøtzthe report contains many factual errors and speculations.

In addition, it is unsatisfactory that it is concluded that the items should be returned to Iraq, he says Schiøtz.

Cato Schiøtz

Cato Schiøtz is Martin Schøyen’s lawyer.

Photo: Aud Darrud / NRK

– We has on repeated occasions discussed whether there is a legal basis for return in accordance with Norwegian law, and has demonstrated that the current provisions on return cannot be given retroactive effect for items acquired before January 2007.

Roland says that Schøyen has on several occasions been told to submit documentation for the objects, but has chosen not to respond to the requests.

– We hope he comes with more documentation, says Roland.

Schiøtz responds to this.

– The Ministry itself has emphasized that it is not possible to operate with the reverse burden of proof that the report provides instructions for. In fact, anyone who claims that something has been removed illegally must prove this. This is a consistently significant error in the report, says Schiøtz.

Value of many millions

Roland says that it is now up to Iraq to decide what they want to do next.

– It is their responsibility to claim the items. I do not know what they will do, but I would assume that a claim will come pretty soon.

Among the objects are several cuneiform scrolls from ancient Mesopotamia.

The most valuable tablet may be a floor plan of the mythical Tower of Babel, from the time of King Nebuchadnezzar II.

The drawing is considered to be worth many million DKK.

Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel is a mythical tower known from Genesis. Most modern scientists believe that the tower can be linked to a real temple in Babylon, Etemanki, built around 600 BC.

Photo: Pieter Brueghel the Elder

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