The British Museum in London has appointed Carl Heron as its interim deputy editor after Jonathan Williams “stepped back” from the position after reports that the institution’s management ignored warnings about stolen and missing items from its collection.
The museum’s chairman, George Osborne, informed the institution’s staff about the appointment in an email, according to the Daily Telegraph, which first reported the news. Osborne said Heron would be in the position on a temporary basis, and called him a “highly-respected authority within the museum.”
Heron has worked at the museum since 2016 as its director of scientific research, a role funded by the London-based health research foundation the Wellcome Trust. Prior to the British Museum, Heron was the head of archaeological sciences at the University of Bradford, where his work focused on identifying ancient organic matter preserved in association with archaeological materials.
The announcement from Osborne means Heron is effectively the interim leader of the British Museum after Hartwig Fischer resigned as director on August 25. Fischer had previously announced in July he would be stepping away from the position in 2024.
Three hours after Fischer’s resignation, the British Museum also announced that Williams would be voluntarily stepping back from his position. The press statement followed several news reports that Dutch art dealer and art historian Ittai Gradel had tried to contact Fischer, Williams, and Osborne about his concerns that the institution’s artifacts were appearing on eBay in 2021.
The museum’s announcement on August 16 said a staff member had been fired, but did not name the individual. That person was later identified as veteran Greek antiquities curator Peter Higgs. Both Higgs and Williams had worked at the British Museum for three decades.
The Telegraph reported that the museum’s lack of documentation for much of its collection likely aided in the theft of the 2,000 objects from the museum and their appearances on the e-commerce platform eBay. One artifact, estimated to be worth $64,000, was listed for $51.
Osborne also informed British Museum staff that the board of trustees are going through the process of appointing an interim director.
“I am clear that once the full interim leadership arrangements are in palace we have a real opportunity to move through this difficult moment and emerge stronger,” he wrote in his email. “We will need to learn the lesson of what had just happened, but we also need to lift our eyes and refocus on the vital curatorial mission of the museum, champion all the brilliant work we do, and start on the big job of renovating the physical architecture of the British museum.“