22 December 2021, for immediate release:


New Ashmolean podcast tackles the difficult questions facing
the world’s oldest public museum:

Who does heritage belong to?  Should we give it all back?


First episode available Friday 21 January 2022
Stream or download for free wherever you get your podcasts or listen online at


The Ashmolean will open its 2022 public programme with Fingerprints, a new podcast tackling some of the most challenging subjects facing museums today.  Six episodes will follow objects over the centuries as they passed from their makers through the hands of monarchs, soldiers, thieves and merchants to archaeologists and museum curators.  As these invisible fingerprints add to the story of how they came to the Ashmolean, they raise just as many questions about the history of museums and the pressing issues of race and justice, decolonisation and restitution.


Across the series, 20 leading cultural thinkers, artists and activists will discuss what museums are for, what they might look like in the future, and whether they have any place in our society at all.  Guests include Bénédicte Savoy, co-author of the Report on African Cultural Heritage, commissioned by Emmanuel Macron; Dan Hicks, of Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum; and Simukai Chigudu, one of the founding members of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign.


The first episode, A Place for Questioning, dives straight into the debate, examining how western museums, and the Ashmolean especially, are entangled with the history of European imperialism.  Xa Sturgis, the Museum’s Director, focuses on Powhatan’s Mantle, an Indigenous North American wall-hanging, and one of the Ashmolean’s most spectacular treasures.  Part of the Museum’s founding collection from the 1630s, it is thought to have been offered as a gift to James I by Wahunsenacawh, Chief of the Powhatan Tribes in present-day Virginia, USA.  It is now in the Ashmolean Story Gallery but even though the display is just a few years old, Sturgis explains there is an increasingly urgent problem:

‘Powhatan’s Mantle is a completely unique artwork. There's simply nothing else of its size, significance and importance that survives from the Algonquian-speaking people of the region from that time. But today, it's displayed not in the context of those people who made it… but rather, of the white Europeans who collected it…For museums to evolve, for museums to engage directly with as many visitors as possible, we have to, I think, face some of these problems full on.’


Writer and museum sceptic, Sumaya Kassim, describes the impact of colonial history on different museum visitors.  She says: ‘My experience of museums is just a lot of loss and a lot of hurt; I experience museums as quite difficult and challenging… a lot people's idea of empire really only happens in museums.  And the fundamental experience for a lot of people of empire was of theft.  And so you guys in the museum world symbolise something.’  The episode also features Laura van Broekhoeven, Director of the Pitt Rivers, Oxford, a museum with deeply complex and controversial history but where staff are at the vanguard in new approaches to museum displays and restitution to source communities.


In following episodes, curators and guests look at a range of famous and emotive objects that raise further fascinating questions:

  • Episode 2: Oxford’s Benin Bronzes, an example of a live and fraught debate about ownership, empire and restitution
  • Episode 3: 200 Indian figurines which were displayed alongside living human beings in Victorian exhibitions to teach colonial officials about their subject peoples
  • Episode 4: a 4500 year old Sumerian statue found by a First World War Indian soldier of the British Army which bears the traces of violence and war and the clashing of empires
  • Episode 5: a pottery fragment from Knossos discovered by archaeologist Arthur Evans in his quest to prove that the ‘cradle of civilisation’ was in Europe, not Asia
  • Episode 6: the Arundel Marbles tell the story of British aristocrats’ passion for Classical antiquities that has left an imprint on buildings and monuments up and down the country


Fingerprints launches on 21 January with a new episode each week until 25 February 2022.  Listeners can stream or download the series for free wherever they get their podcasts or online at and join the conversation on social media @AshmoleanMuseum.




Claire Parris, Press Officer, Ashmolean Museum | | 07833 384 512

Suzanne de la Rosa, Head of Communications, Oxford University Gardens, Libraries and Museums


Images for editorial use are available to download at:


Series host: Lucie Dawkins, Director & Producer, Ashmolean Museum

1. A Place for Questioning, 21 January 2022


  • Xa Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean
  • Sumaya Kassim, writer, curator and museum-sceptic
  • Reyahn King, CEO of York Museums Trust
  • Laura van Broekhoeven, Director of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford
  • Mustafa Barcho, Oxford-Middle East Community Ambassador, Ashmolean Museum
  • Marenka Thompson-Odlum, Researcher, Pitt Rivers


2. The Looted Masks, 28 January 2022


  • Simukai Chigudu, Professor of African Politics, University of Oxford and founding member of Rhodes Must Fall
  • Dan Hicks, Professor of Contemporary Archaeology, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford
  • Victor Ehikhamenor, artist
  • Adenike Cosgrove, collector and historian of African Art Historian
  • Professor Bénédicte Savoy, art historian and co-author of the report, The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron and one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2021


3. Displaying People, 4 February 2022


  • Professor Mallica Kumbera Landrus, Head of Eastern Art at the Ashmolean
  • Ali Kazim, one of Pakistan’s leading contemporary artists whose work will be on show in the Ashmolean from 7 February 2022
  • Dr Nayanika Mathur, Associate Professor in the Anthropology of South Asia, University of Oxford


4. A King from the Trenches, 11 February 2022


  • Dr Paul Collins, Curator of the Ancient Middle East, Ashmolean Museum
  • Dr Meyihar Kathem, Nahrein Network, UCL and Oxford, Researcher on cultural heritage in contemporary Iraq
  • Santanu Das, Professor of Modern Literature and Culture, University of Oxford


5. Hunting the Minotaur, 18 February 2022


  • Dr Andrew Shapland, Curator of Bronze Age & Classical Greece
  • Dr Athanasia Kanta, archaeologist
  • Dr Lisa Bendall, Associate Professor in Aegean Prehistory, University of Oxford
  • Dr Lucia Patrizio Gunning, Modern Historian, UCL
  • Dr Antonis Kotsonas, Associate Professor of Mediterranean History and Archaeology


6. Competitive Collecting, 25 February 2022


  • Dr Alison Pollard, Lecturer in Classical Archaeology, University of Oxford
  • Jas Elsener, Professor of Classics and Art History, University of Oxford
  • Prof Peter Stewart, Director of the Classical Art Research Centre, University of Oxford
  • Phiroze Vasunia, Professor of Greek, UCL