Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A Closer Look at the New Kids on the Block

Here's a closer look at the two copper alloy statuettes that re-appeared yesterday from somewhere, alongside two established to be on the list of missing objects from Cairo Egyptian Museum. All four were in the hands of some criminals who were "caught red handed" doing something or other somewhere.

They've been photographed on some big pieces of white polythene foam (the last lot had as the background Agfa photographic paper). This is the sort of inert foam you'd find in a conservation lab for packing.

On the left is a figure of Harpocrates about 18 cm (+/-) in height the state of which suggests it has been heavily but unevenly chemically stripped and maybe an attempt has been made to chemically repatinate it. If this is cleaning it looks like the sort of thing that might have happened thirty years ago. The cast is indistinct, rather blurry and disproportionate and schematic. The metal underneath the corrosion does not seem very eroded, except perhaps on the headdress. Is it a genuine antiquity? It looks very much like a bizarre bazaar piece.

On the right is an Osiris on a base with a tenon. The casting is sharp and precise, bears traces it seems of gilding. The patina is completely different, a thin layer of oxidation seems to lie over smooth metal, there is no differential corrosion where the gold (if that is what it is) contacts the copper alloy. It has been polished by handling. Is it a genuine antiquity?

From the photos it is difficult to say if these objects are ancient, the fact that a commission of the Egyptian MSA is still looking at them suggests they think they might be (in the Al-Ahram article it says specifically that on the basis of his initial examination Dr Tarek El-Awady says they are both genuine). What however is clear is that if they are, they come from two separate environments of deposition. If the Harpocrates had thicker corrosion products on it, it would have come from burial in a damper environment, while the Osiris looks as if it has never been buried, perhaps in a desert tomb/cave or whatever.

I do not think either of them are fresh dugups, my guess is that if they are ancient they come from a (genuine) old collection, or a museum/antiquities store - OR they found their way into Egypt from the foreign antiquities market - a possibility that we cannot rule out, it depends who these "criminals" were and what kind of activity they were involved in.

It is apparently a futile hope that we will be told much more by the Egyptian authorities, so for the moment these two objects and the origins of the other two which somehow wandered out of the Museum will remain a mystery - at least until there is a new government and hopefully we will see a government enquiry into the way this crisis came about and was dealt with as there are many unanswered questions.

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