Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 29 October 2020

Malta performs swift U-turn over David Attenborough shark tooth

Malta had demanded that the natural historian's gift to Prince George should be returned

Prince George was presented with the tooth during David Attenborough's Kensingtoin Palace visit. EPA
Prince George was presented with the tooth during David Attenborough's Kensingtoin Palace visit. EPA

Malta says Prince George can keep a prehistoric shark tooth gifted to him by Sir David Attenborough after initially demanding it be returned to the island where it was found by the broadcaster.

Sir David, 94, unearthed the giant tooth during a family holiday on the Mediterranean island in the late 1960s.

He presented it to the seven-year-old royal at the weekend during a visit to Kensington Palace, where he gave the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge a private viewing of his new documentary A Life on Our Planet.

Maltese culture minister Jose Herrera initially said he wanted to “get the ball rolling” on its return but has since changed his mind.

"The Minister would like to note that with reference to this case, it is not the intention to pursue this matter any further," a spokesman told the Times of Malta.

Mr Herrera earlier said some Maltese artefacts “deserve to be returned” because they were culturally important.

He said: “We rightly give a lot of attention to historical and artistic artefacts. However, it is not always the case with our natural history. I am determined to direct a change in this attitude.”

The fossil, believed to be about three million years old, belonged to Carcharocles megalodon, an extinct species of a giant shark that could grow up to 18 metres, three times the size of great white sharks.

Photos released by the palace over the weekend showed Prince George looking intrigued by the tooth. Malta is a former British colony that gained independence in 1964.

Prince George admires the shark tooth with Prince Louis. AFP 
Prince George admires the shark tooth with Prince Louis. AFP 

Under a 2002 Maltese law, fossils are considered “cultural heritage” and their removal is forbidden.

It is not the first time Britain’s cultural treasures have caused consternation around the world.

The Elgin Marbles, a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures, were stripped from the Parthenon and shipped to Britain in early 1800.

They are currently on display in the British Museum and have long faced calls to be repatriated to Greece.

Similarly, the Benin Bronzes - some of Africa’s greatest treasures - were looted by British soldiers 1897.

African leaders have pleaded for their return from the British Museum but curators refused.

Kensington Palace declined to comment on the return of the shark tooth.

This gallery shows other foreign artefacts currently in British possession.

Updated: September 29, 2020 04:54 PM

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