A crown seized by British troops at the battle of Maqdala in 1868 in Ethiopia is pictured at an exhibition, “Maqdala 1868: A Reflection on the 1868 Siege and Battle at Maqdala,\" at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Ethiopia wants treasures like this to be returned, part of a growing call for the restitution of treasures taken by European countries during the imperial age

A crown seized by British troops at the battle of Maqdala in 1868 in Ethiopia is pictured at an exhibition, “Maqdala 1868: A Reflection on the 1868 Siege and Battle at Maqdala," at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Ethiopia wants treasures like this to be returned, part of a growing call for the restitution of treasures taken by European countries during the imperial ageImage: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP / GETTY

The British Museum has once again refused to return ancient artifacts from the Ethopian Orthodox church even though, under Ethiopian traditions, nobody except holy men are allowed to view them

The collection is made up of 11 wood and stone Christian plaques, or tabots, that represent the Ark of the Covenant. They belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which believes only its priests should view them. Currently, the tabots are stored in a store room in the British Museum. 

Read more: Missing piece of Stonehenge returned 60 years after it went missing

In 1868 Ethiopian Emperor Tewodros II was defeated by the British army at the battle of Maqdala. When Tewodros committed suicide, soldiers ransacked his treasure, taking a huge number of both royal and ecclesiastic robes, vestments, crosses, chalices, swords and shields, many embroidered or decorated with gold or silver, hundreds of tabots, the great Imperial silver negarit war drum, and a huge number of valuable manuscripts

The soldiers had brought along an expert from the Birtish Museum to help seperate the wheat from the chaff, and then auctioned off their finds. The majority of these finds now sit in the collections of leading UK museums and libraries, even though Ethiopia has repeatedly asked for them back over the past century and a half.

Read more: Everything you need to know about Winston Churchill

For the Ethiopian government, the items are hugely important, and “a fundamental part of the existential fabric of Ethiopia and its people,” according to Hirut Kassaw, the country’s culture minister who is asking for their returns. 

However, the British Musuem has once again refused, stating that the best it could do is offer the tabots back on a long-term loan.