I find this issue a difficult one. To some countries, these artifacts have been national treasures, it’s true. But they belong to other nations. The difficult part for me comes in returning these artifacts to potentially unstable countries, where they might be damaged.
Take Egypt for example. The country is not the most stable. The “Arab Spring” is a good thing, in some ways, but it also involves violence and uncertainty, and we don’t know who will win. Do we really want to risk losing treasures that are meaningful not just to Egypt, but to mankind?
I think a solution would be to hold the artifacts in trust in museums in other countries, wherever they are now, and then return them at a later date.
Interestingly enough, some archeologists actually make it their mission to return artifacts to the countries they came from. Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, delights in bringing artifacts home.
"People can think that the best moment in the life of an archaeologist is actually to discover something," Hawass said. "But for me, the best thing is to return something to Egypt."
In the end, I believe we need to find some way to bring the artifacts home, once it is safe.