Saturday, 3 November 2007

Al Jazeera, Zahi Hawass, and Egyptian antiquities

Lee Rosenbaum's CultureGrrl has drawn attention to Zahi Hawass' interview with Riz Khan (July 12, 2007) on Al Jazeera ("Rosetta Stone: Why the British Museum Distrusts Hawass").

There are several areas of interest in the interview. Hawass makes a distinction between items stolen from stores in Egypt, objects removed from archaeological sites, and high profile objects which reside in collections outside Egypt.

First, he talks about items stolen from archaeological stores in Egypt. This includes the Middle Kingdom alabaster duck that had been stolen from the store at Saqqara and had then surfaced at Christie's in New York. It has since been returned.

He then turned to the St Louis Art Museum and the Middle Kingdom mummy mask that Hawass claims was stolen from the Saqqara store.

Hawass was then questioned about the scale of the problem though no clear cut figure was given. I have noted elsewhere that Sotheby's in New York sold some $41 million worth of Egyptian antiquities between 1998 and 2007 of which I observe,
Nearly 70% of the Egyptian antiquities auctioned at Sotheby's New York appear to be unknown before 1973.

Hawass also talks about items which reside in European and North American collections. In particular he mentions his hope that several pieces will be loaned to ("visit") Egypt for the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum. Among the pieces he hopes to borrow are the Rosetta Stone in London, the bust of Nefertiti in Berlin, the 4th Dynasty bust of Prince Ankhhaf ( "From Giza, tomb G 7510. 1925: excavated by the Harvard University-Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; 1927: assigned to the MFA in the division of finds by the government of Egypt"), the Zodiac from the Dendera temple in Paris, and the statue of Hemiunnu in Hildesheim. The loan of Hemiunnu has now been agreed; Boston and the Louvre have declined to make loans. For Hawass the sanction is to "stop scientific co-operation".

As Rosenbaum observes, there may be more to these loans. As Hawass develops his theme, he states,
The Rosetta Stone is in England. We own that stone. The motherland should own this.
For interview

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