Friday, 25 January 2013

Egypt: Antiquities Don't Talk

Egyptian police on Wednesday arrested a man, and confiscated a group of 863 artefacts from a man travelling on the Cairo-Suez highway, he was chased trying to escape from a police ambush after police stopped his vehicle for inspection. He has been detained pending further investigations.
The collection includes objects from ancient, Graeco-Roman, and Islamic periods of Egyptian history. Youssef Khalifa, head of the Confiscated Antiquities Section at the antiquities ministry, told Ahram Online that all the objects were genuine except for a dozen very accurate replicas. The collection includes 180 small amulets, 10 scarabs, 120 Ptolemaic coins, 407 bronze Roman coins and three Osirian wooden statues from the late period. There was also a very well preserved limestone basin from the Old Kingdom outlined with hieroglyphic text and the name of King Senefru's purification priest [...] A limestone stele depicting a bust of the god Ptah and a black granite statue of the goddess Hathor were also among the collection.
It is nice to see the question of the authenticity of the artefacts being addressed, so many times in recent months does it seem people were arrested for trafficking items which turned out to be replicas. So, these items were on their way to Suez and presumably for export out of Egypt. Of course amulets, scarabs and coins are easily smuggled, easy to introduce onto the no-questions asked market, they are among the staple money-circulators of today's antiquities trade. Dealers will pass them off as "from old collections" that just happen accidentally (again) to have lost any kind of paperwork confirming that beyond doubt, but (nudge-nudge, wink-wink - "you can take my word for it, or not buy it". Most collectors (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) do. They're not bothered. Not at all fussy.
Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said early investigations prove the objects were stolen from illicit excavations at various archaeological sites ...
Which is the real reason why when they come onto the nudge-nudge, wink-wink antiquities market, they'll have no real paperwork. As the foreign nudgers and winkers to their eternal shame, well and fully know. Minister Mohamed Ibrahim is a bit optimistic thinking:
a team from the ministry would study every object to discover its original location.
They cannot tell that from the artefact. They might find out by appropriate persuasion of the man they arrested. 

Nevine El-Aref, 'Stolen Egyptian artefacts seized on Cairo-Suez highway' Al-Ahram, Thursday 24 Jan 2013.

Luxor Times: '863 genuine artefacts were seized on Cairo-Suez road' Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Vignette: establishing collecting histories, the hard way. 


Nicole Hansen said...

Trafficking in forged antiquities is also a crime in Egypt under the antiquities law of 1983.

Paul Barford said...

Thanks, it is of course serious fraud.

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