Thursday, March 18, 2010
Miami and the coffin
initial reports, attributed to Zahi Hawass, suggested that it had left Egypt in the 1884.
The coffin had been sent to North America from a Spanish galerista based in Barcelona. It was detained in October 2008 after arriving in Miami via Ireland. A member of the US Customs service spotted that the coffin was not accompanied by appropriate documentation that would demonstrate its collecting history (or provenance). The item had been sent to an unnamed US dealer; it was claimed that it had already been sold to an anonymous Canadian collector.
Subsequent research showed that the Third Intermediate Coffin belonged to an individual named as Imesy. Reports in the Spanish press suggested that it had been acquired by a Spanish collector in the 1970s; these suggestions bring into question the earlier report that the coffin had left Egypt in the 19th century.
Although the Barcelona gallery initially challenged the detention, the legal case was withdrawn. It appears that the galerista was unable to produce paperwork that could demonstrate conclusively how the coffin had come into his (temporary) possession.
The Barcelona gallery, "Arqueología Clásica" (proprietor Félix Cervera), was, at the time, a probationary member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA). (The gallery's membership is reported to have lapsed at the end of 2009.) The code of ethics for the IADAA includes the statement, "The members of 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.".
The Barcelona gallery was named in the Italian investigation codenamed "Operation Ghelas". This operation apprehended a number of individuals handling recently surfaced antiquities from Sicily and southern Italy. The objects were apparently being passed onto the European and North American markets via dealers in Switzerland, Germany and Spain.
In March 2010 the seized Egyptian coffin was handed over to Dr Zahi Hawass in order for it to be returned to Egypt. Hawass acknowledged the partnership between Egypt and the US in keeping a check on the trade in recently surfaced antiquities. The plan is to place the coffin on display in Egypt.
The case is a reminder that there appear to be dealers and others associated with the movement of cultural property who still persist in bringing antiquities into the USA without the appropriate documentation. The case should also encourage the resolve of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as they seek to protect the world's cultural heritage.