Thursday, 12 April 2012

Scabby Hands at St Louis

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 I have previously drawn attention to the scraped-off area of paint on the St Louis mummy mask hand. Here is what it looked like before this operation (photo from Goneim's 1956 book, The Buried Pyramid' ).



Here is another old photo of the mask showing it before "restoration" (from the Český egyptologický ústav webpage).

Now that is quite a prominent inscription, isn't it? It is a hieratic inscription giving the name of the owner, reading from right to left "Neferu".


So who would have done this, and why, in the SLAM "collection-history"?
1) Goneim (1952)?
2) Brussels dealer (1952)?
3) Kaloterna (early 1960s)? 
4) Jelinek (early 1960s-1990s)?
5) Aboutaam the dealer (1995/7?
6) SLAM (>March 30, 1998)? 

And in the alternative "collection-history" proposed by the US government in their forfeiture case?
1) Goneim (1952)?
2) Cairo Museum (1952-1966/73)?
3) [Stolen and] in hands of Unknown Person or persons (1966/73-1995)
4) Aboutaam the dealer (1995/7?
5) SLAM (>March 30, 1998)? 

Who would have the motivation for removing the name of the person commemorated from this item? Certainly nobody who'd acquired it legally would have any problems with that name being on the object. It cannot have been removed for aesthetic reasons, since the scabby patch on the hand was not retouched. Note that enough ink remains to show that an inscription has been removed. Was any attention paid to this damage when SLAM was considering buying the object? Did it seem at all significant that an inscription had been removed? It seems pretty significant to me - especially when considering the alternative collection history rather than the first. The inscription is the only piece of information on that mask which would give an easy clue as to where it had been found. In light of that fact, it seems to me that since nobody in the first version of the collection history would have any motive to scratch it off and somebody in the second most certainly would, that this is another piece of evidence (albeit circumstantial) arguing for the second being closer to the true story of what has happened to this contested object. 

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