Skip to main content

St Louis Mummy Mask: SLAM takes legal action

In April 2010 Zahi Hawass "turned over to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security 'all the evidence that I have to prove that this mask was stolen, and we have to bring it back'." [full story]

It now appears that the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM) is so worried about the issue that it has taken out "a civil action for declaratory relief concerning the ownership and possession of an Egyptian mummy mask known as the Mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer ("Mask"), an approximately 3,200 year old Egyptian cartonnage mummy/funerary mask, which was discovered in 1952, purchased by the Museum in 1998 and remains owned and possessed by the Museum." [full statement]

The "factual allegations" note that the mask was excavated at Saqqara.
In or about 1952, the Mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer was discovered during an excavation of the unfinished Step Pyramid of the Third Dynasty ruler Sekhemkhet on the Saqqara necropolis. The excavator was Mohammed Zakaria Goneim (“Goneim”).
What is more interesting is that it is claimed that
In the early 1960s, the Mask was a part of the Kaloterna (or Kaliterna) private collection, during which time it was purchased by Ms. Zuzi Jelinek (“Jelinek”), a Croatian collector in Switzerland. In or around 1995, Jelinek sold the Mask to Phoenix Ancient Art, S.A. of Geneva ("Phoenix"). On or about April 3, 1998, the Museum purchased the Mask from Phoenix.
It is interesting to observe that the "factual allegation" is unable to be sure about the correct name of the Kaloterna / Kaliterna collection. The fact is that Ms Jelinek appears to have "sold" the mask to Phoenix Ancient Art, S.A. in 1995. For the next two years it appears to have resided in North America.

It would be interesting to see the full set of authenticated documents for the period covering the period from 1952 to 1995.

The case is discussed in Laura E. Young's thesis that includes fascimiles of the relevant letters. [discussed here]

It would be inappropriate to speculate on why SLAM has chosen this moment to serve the legal papers.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know


Derek Fincham said…
David I think you are correct to point out the unfortunate timing of the declaratory judgment suit by the Museum. However it is very likely that the Museum decided to initiate the suit before the Egyptian revolution. The protests in Egypt began on January 25, just under two weeks after the U.S. Attorneys threatened to bring a forfeiture claim against the Museum.

Irrespective of when the suit was brought, the Museum has opened itself up to criticism of this sort, which it apparently feels is outweighed by precluding a forfeiture suite by the U.S. government.
David Gill said…
I presume that (paid) U.S. Attorneys can be asked to put things on hold ... so it looks as if SLAM has pressed ahead irrespective of the negative PR implications.

Popular posts from this blog

Codename: Ainsbrook

I have been watching (UK) Channel 4's Time Team this evening. The programme looked at an undisclosed field (under a potato crop) where a Viking burial had been found. The location in Yorkshire was so sensitive that it was given a codename: Ainsbrook. Here is the summary:
In late 2003 two metal detectorists were working in a field in Yorkshire. They found 'treasure' buried just beneath the surface – a collection of Viking material next to a body. Although they had been detecting on the site for a number of years, during which time they had made large numbers of finds, nothing they had uncovered previously compared with this. They decided to share their discovery with archaeologists.The programme explored the tension between metal-detectorists and the English Heritage sponsored archaeologists putting six trenches into the field based on a geo-physical survey. Finds made by the metal-detectorists did not easily map onto the archaeological features.

Part of the programme had an …

The scale of the returns to Italy

I have been busy working on an overview, "Returning Archaeological Objects to Italy". The scale of the returns to Italy from North American collections and galleries is staggering: in excess of 350 objects. This is clearly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the material that has surfaced on the market without a history that can be traced back to the period before 1970. 

I will provide more information in due course, but the researcher is a reminder that we need to take due diligence seriously when it comes to making acquisitions.

Stele returns to Greece

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has announced (Saturday 8 September 2018) that a stele that had been due to be auctioned at Sotheby's in London in June 2017 has been returned to Greece (Friday 7 September 2018). The identification had been made by Cambridge-based forensic archaeologist Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

It appeared that the stele had been supplied with a falsified history as its presence with Becchina until 1990 contradicted the published sale catalogue entry. It then moved into the hands of George Ortiz.

A year ago it was suggested that Sotheby's should contact the Greek authorities. Those negotiations appear to have concluded successfully.

The 4th century BC stele fragment, with the personal name, Hestiaios, will be displayed in the Epigraphic Museum in Athens. It appears to have come from a cemetery in Attica.