Thursday, November 6, 2014

Our Treasures Abroad: Egypt tries to halt sale of 35 ‘stolen’ artifacts at US auction house

One of the artifacts for sale - Photo courtesy of the Artemis Gallery website
A set of 35 reportedly stolen ancient Egyptian artifacts are set to be auctioned off Thursday at the Artemis Gallery auction house in Pennsylvania in the U.S., said the Antiquities Ministry’s Restored Artifacts Department (RAD) head Ali Ahmed.

“The 35 items, spanning several periods of ancient Egyptian history, are the outcome of illicit digging activities that occurred in several archaeological sites across the country in the aftermath of the January 25 Revolution and its consequent security lapse,” Ahmed told The Cairo Post Thursday.

The Egyptian artifacts, part of a lot of 267 items collected from all over the world, are to be on sale in a two-day online auction scheduled for Oct. 23-24, said Ahmed.

“The department has contacted the Egyptian Foreign Ministry and the Egyptian Embassy in Washington D.C. to take legal procedures to stop the sale and to present the artifacts’ provenances (document that trace an artifact’s chain of ownership back to its excavation),” Sameh Daoud of the RAD told The Cairo Post Thursday.

Among the Egyptian artifacts up for auction is a green schist palette dating back to 3,200 B.C., a wooden sarcophagus mask dating back to the Late Period (1,000 B.C.-525 B.C.) and a red limestone ointment vessel dating back to the 12th Dynasty (2,000 B.C.-1,800 B.C.), according to the photos displayed on the Artemis Gallery auction house website.

When contacting auction houses and asking for the suspension of the sale until the legitimacy of the artifact is proven, Ahmed previously told The Cairo Post most refuse to engage with his office, and say they have not received any legal notices from their home country to suspend the sale.

“In order to stop the sale of an artifact, Interpol requires information related to the laws of the country where the artifact was detected,” he said.

The required information includes when and where the artifact was taken, along with a full description of the artifacts Ahmed said, adding that since stolen artifacts are not listed in the ministry’s archive and because he has only seen their online photos at the auction house website, his office is unable to track their history and know where they were taken from.

“The complexity here is that the antiquities trade was legal in Egypt until the Antiquities Protection Law was issued in 1983,” Ahmed said. “When an unregistered stolen artifact pops up on the Internet, we are unable to determine whether or not it was smuggled from Egypt before 1983.”

Maj. Gen. Ahmed Abdel Zaher, head of the Antiquities Investigations Department, echoed Ahmed’s statements, and said there is no record of how many antiquities have gone missing, as many artifacts were stolen during illegal digs, and there is no way to know they even exist.

“It is also difficult to know exactly when these items arrived on the legal market and in which way, because it is possible they pass through different countries and different private sellers, and can get several provenances before reappearing in a legal auction,” Abdel Zaher previously told The Cairo Post.

In order to transport goods to market countries, the stolen artifacts usually pick up export certificates in transit countries, he added.

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