April 15, 2011 09:42
Without official fanfare, the first 75 volumes of the Oegyujanggak royal archives arrived at the cargo terminal of Incheon International Airport on Thursday, 175 years after they were looted in a botched French invasion of Korea. The five boxes were unceremoniously loaded on to trucks after clearing customs and taken to the storage vault of the National Museum of Korea.
The museum did not provide any immediate information on the books and said that it will reveal details once the remaining 221 volumes are returned by May 27. The first batch are known to contain eight unique volumes that have no duplicates.
Museum officials were not even able to unpack the volumes and had no hand in packing them in France. According to international protocol, the agency receiving valuable artifacts dispatches officials to the country sending them, but the museum said France "did not want that."
The museum said the fragile texts need to spend 24 hours acclimatizing to the moisture and temperature. But one preservation expert said, "Although some time for acclimatization is given for artifacts after long flights, in the case of objects that have drawn as much public attention as this one, the museum should have been more insistent with France and opened at least some of the boxes to give a peek at their content."
The royal texts, which include the "Uigwe," a rare collection of royal protocols, will be unpacked behind closed doors on Friday afternoon.
"This is a very sensitive issue for France," a museum official said, since the archive is officially on permanent loan rather than being returned. "We don't want to agitate France since there are more texts that have yet to be returned."
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