World-renowned natural historian Sir David Attenborough might find himself in hot water with Maltese authorities, and it’s all because of that shark tooth he found in Malta back in the 1960s.
Attenborough gifted seven-year-old Prince George the shark tooth during a screening of his latest film last Saturday.
But whilst this gesture warmed the hearts of many, Jose Herrera, Malta’s Arts Minister, said that the shark tooth should be in a local museum.
Many were quick to speak out against Herrera’s calls for the artefact to be returned, with news of the fiasco reaching major foreign outlets.
However, following the backlash, Herrera eventually clarified that Malta won’t actively pursue means of retrieving the shark tooth after all.
But as we dug deep into Malta’s legislation, it turns out that Herrera might have had a point after all.
The 1910 Antiquities Ordnance and the 1925 Antiquities Act prohibited the excavation of archaeological sites and the extraction of fossils found on land within the territorial waters of the Maltese islands.
You can only undertake the aforementioned activities if you have written permission from the Minister responsible for national cultural heritage or their delegate.
So unless Attenborough got written permission from the relevant Minister at the time – he technically broke the law.
But the issues don’t end there.
The export of cultural items, including archaeological, antique, artistic objects as well as geological and fossil specimens required the prior written permission of the Minister responsible for national cultural heritage or his delegate.
So if Attenborough didn’t have written permission from the relevant authorities prior to his departure from his holiday in Malta during the 1960s, then he’s broken yet another law.
The National Heritage Ministry had its fair share of points to make about this matter.
“Owing to the small size of the Maltese archipelago, the antiquities and fossils from the Maltese Islands is limited and finite, hence their importance for the Maltese nation is very high and critical,” the Ministry said.
“Such unauthorised extraction and export of cultural items have become undesirable such that even international organisation of heritage issued charters and conventions to control such unethical behaviour.”
“Therefore, the Maltese authorities welcome any initiative for the return of cultural heritage.”