Charles Darwin letter returned to the Smithsonian



The Smithsonian recently received restitution of a long lost letter from Charles Darwin missing from the museum archives since the 1970’s. It is believed that the letter was stolen by an intern working at the museum.

The FBI was tipped off that the letter was quite near Washington, D.C.  The FBI was unable to prosecute the dealer as the statue of limitations had passed, but the letter was proven to be authentic and returned to the Smithsonian who originally owned the letter.

We don’t often hear of items being returned to a U.S. Museum, so this is quite noteworthy in the world of art crime.  The letter was from Darwin to thank geologist, Dr. Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, for sending him geology research of the what would  later become Yellowstone National Park. Hayden spent many years between the 1850’s to the 1870’s exploring the American West which resulted in the discovery of many artifacts that remain in the Smithsonian today.

The FBI maintains a database online that lists stolen art and historical artifacts.  Artifacts currently listed include such items as fine arts, decorative arts, antiquities, Asian art, Islamic art, Native American art, ethnographic objects, archaeological material, textiles, books and manuscripts, clocks and watches, coins, stamps, musical instruments, and scientific instruments.

New Zealand won repatriation of Maori remains from Smithsonian Museum

New Zealand Museum Te Papa Tongarewa has lobbied and won the repatriation of over 54 mummified bodies including 4 Maori heads from the Smithsonian Museum.  

The mummified bodies were traded, collected and sold dating back to the 1800’s.  In total, New Zealand has repatriated over 60 bodies and Maori heads from private and public collections in United States and UK.

In the Maori culture, the mummified heads were the most important part of the body, many being chiefs and warriors.  As western explorers began expeditions in the country, the Maori heads became increasingly sought after.

New Zealand thanked the Smithsonian for their respect and return of the bodies.  This is the second largest effort to repatriate the Moari heads and bodies back to their homeland since 1990.