Why the interest?
It turns out that the piece had been excavated "at the pyramid of Amenemhat III" [reigned 1831-1786 BCE] in 1979, and then stolen from the store at Saqqara where the finds were kept. It had surfaced at auction at Christie's in New York (but was withdrawn when concerns were raised).
In one sense it is old news (see short statement from Zahi Hawass). This was one of two pieces to surface last year (Brian Handwerk, "Egypt's Antiquities Chief Combines Passion, Clout to Protect Artifacts", National Geographic News, October 24, 2006).
What about the second duck?
The second piece had bobbed up in the gallery of Rupert Wace Ancient Art (London).
Is this the object presented as one of the "Rare and ancient works of art dating from 4000 BC to the 10th century AD [that] will be displayed by the London dealer Rupert Wace at the Winter Antiques Show that takes place at the Seventh Regiment Armory, 67th Street and Park Avenue, New York, from Friday 20 to Sunday 29 January 2006" [Press Statement]? Among the "objets" is listed:
"A more unusual piece is an alabaster vessel carved in two separate halves in the form of a plucked duck that would originally have contained an actual duck as an offering. From a private collection in France, it dates from the Middle Kingdom, 2040-1648 BC."A colour image is posted on the gallery's Public Relations website.
So what is this private collection in France?
It turns out, according to Hawass, to be PIASA in Paris.
What is PIASA?
"PIASA was founded by four auctioneers (Picard, Audap, Solanet, Velliet) with a common commitment to high ethical standards and the desire to pursue their development in the wake of the reform of the French auction market and its opening to international competition".
Praise to Wace and PIASA: the duck has been returned to Egypt (though the case is still "under investigation").
But how did a member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) end up offering a stolen antiquity for sale?
"The members of the IADAA undertake not to purchase or sell objects until they have established to the best of their ability that such objects were not stolen from excavations. architectural monuments, public institutions or private property."
Would careful research have picked up the fact that the piece had been stolen from the excavation store?
What is "the best of their ability"?
Such an incident is likely to undermine confidence in the IADAA. Is adequate "research" being undertaken to stop stolen (let alone looted) antiquities being offered for sale by IADAA members?
And who is Rupert Wace?
Wace has "handled the private sales of antiquities from the British Rail Pension Fund and his clients include the British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the National Museum of Wales, the Musée du Louvre in Paris, Staatliche Museum in Munich, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Cleveland Museum of Art. As well as being a member of IADAA, Rupert Wace is Chairman of the Antiquities Dealers Association in the UK which also rigorously upholds the ethics of dealing in ancient art." [Quoted from Press Release for Basel Ancient Art Fair, November 2007].
Wace was also a member of the Ministerial Advisory Panel on Illicit Antiquities, Department of Culture, Media and Sport, UK Government in 2000 [Report].
What sort of advice was being offered to the Panel? How does the IADAA define "upholding" ethical standards?
These Middle Kingdom ducks have raised a clutch of questions.