A bowl, teacup, and plate from the Ming and Qing dynasties worth £66 million ($77 million) were broken in three separate incidents at Taiwan’s National Palace Museum over the past 18 months. These incidents were previously undisclosed, and only came to light last week following questioning from a Taiwanese legislator.
On Friday, Taiwan’s opposition legislator Chen I-shin claimed he received a tip that the museum director Wu Mi-cha instructed staff to cover up the incidents and to treat all paperwork as classified.
“We have absolutely not hidden anything about this,” Wu said at a press conference, according to the Guardian.
Wu and the museum denied the allegations. They claim that any precautions taken were to ensure that the evidence was not tampered with while the breakages were under investigation.
The three objects in question, which back to the 15th and 17th centuries, were classified as “general antiquities” by the museum—the lowest-level designation of cultural heritage. Therefore, no formal announcement was made with the public or cultural ministry.
Though the museum checked 10 years of CCTV footage, it was reportedly unable to determine who was responsible for two of the three incidents. One, however, was caused by a senior staff member who placed the artifact on a three-foot high desk from which the object subsequently fell. The museum said it is taking disciplinary action.
Located outside Taipei, the National Palace Museum holds the world’s largest collection of Chinese artifacts. After nationalists fled to Taiwan during the Chinese civil war, many of these objects were transported by Chiang Kai-shek from mainland China. The collection spans 5,000 yeas of Chinese history.
Since there are so many pieces, only a small portion of them can be displayed at one time. Artifacts not on loan or being exhibited—including the three recently broken objects—are uninsured, according to the Guardian. In the past, the museum has vowed to improve its storage practices.