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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 July, 2003, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
Raided Lost Ark returns home
By Damian Zane
BBC, Addis Ababa

A replica of the Biblical Ark of the covenant, or tabot, has been taken back to Ethiopia and an Irish doctor was responsible.

Dr Ian MacLennnan
Dr MacLennan started shaking when he first saw the tabot
But Indiana Jones he is not.

No chiselled jaw line. No leather whip, no pistol.

And this discovery did not require hacking through dense jungle or dodging dangerous rivals.

In 1868 British soldiers looted the Maqdala fortress in the north of Ethiopia as part of a campaign to free some hostages.

Royal treasures along with some valuable manuscripts and religious artefacts found their way into museums and private collections.

Doctor Ian MacLennan - an Ethiopia lover and member of the Orthodox church - came across the unidentified tabot in London - in the middle of an auction lot of various Ethiopian artefacts.

'Absolutely shocked'

Doctor MacLennan - who at times shielded his eyes from the gaze of publicity during the press conference where his discovery was announced - spoke with awe about his chance find.

"I was absolutely shocked," he said.

An Ethiopian priest carries a tabot
Only three of the treasures looted from the Maqdala fortress have been returned

He added that when he sees the tabot during a church service he feels physically sick, and so he started shaking when he realised what he was looking at.

Doctor MacLennan bought the tabot - although he is not revealing for how much - and knew that it had to come back to Ethiopia.

And he brought it here within two weeks of getting hold of it.

As the tabot is only the third item of the Maqdala treasures to come back to Ethiopia, there is still a long way to go before full restitution.

New trend

But Richard Pankhurst, one of the founders of the Afromet campaign, suggested that this could be the beginning of a trend.

Indreas Eshete, president of Addis Ababa university and chair of Afromet, used the opportunity to call on the British Museum to return the collection of Ethiopian manuscripts that were taken from Maqdala and which are invaluable to scholars here.

So far Ethiopia has had to rely on the generosity of individuals.

For the past 15 years the campaign for the return of these treasures - Afromet - has been calling on the British to hand them back.

The finder of the lost ark - Doctor MacLennan - did not want to get caught up in a political argument.

But looking down at his feet he said that now he just wants to go home and feel happy that the people of Ethiopia have got one of their raided tabots back.

Ethiopian artefact returning home
27 Jan 02  |  Scotland
Sacred artefact found in cupboard
05 Dec 01  |  Scotland
Italy to keep Ethiopian monument
20 Jul 01  |  Africa

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