A painted limestone relief that was stolen and smuggled out of Egypt before 1986 will return to Egypt. A German couple had bought it from a collector in Britain in 1986 but learnt it was stolen and returned it on Wednesday. The item was part of the decoration of the much-robbed tomb (TT63 on the north flank of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna hill) of the 18th dynasty royal official Sobekhotep (temp. Tuthmosis IV) from the Nobles necropolis on Luxor’s west bank. The relief had been spotted a few months ago by curators at Bonn University Museum while organising a temporary exhibition there.
The limestone relief is in very good condition. It is 30cm tall and 40cm wide. It depicts two figures of Sobehotep standing and making offerings to deities. The owners of the relief, a German couple, did not know it was stolen because they brought from a British private collection in 1986 and offered it to Bonn University Museum so it could be displayed at the temporary exhibition.The tomb itself is listed on the excellent resource offered by Waseda University where there are a couple of pictures showing what looters have left behind of the fine and important decoration. Here are some tracings of the remaining bits - including one that then ended up in Hildesheim, Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum, Pelizaeus-Museum, 5959 (the two plans of the tomb differ quite markedly). There is also a piece of one of the ripped-out bits that has not gone home in New York's met Museum, bought in 1930. Interestingly, the British Museum has six knocked-off bits from this tomb too, in two groups, five donated in 1869 by 'Henry Danby Seymour', one bought 1852 from 'Mr J H (or W) Wild'. Here they all are in their disjointed colourfulness:
In the nineteenth century when these bits were levered off the wall (no doubt several other panels collapsed in the process - and to be fair, the plaster seems to have become detached in places in the tomb by itself) there were limited opportunities for the viewing public to visit the site. But these disjointed fragments make very little sense in the form we have them, scattered in different collections. Yet some of them are important for the information they offer, the foreign tributaries are often quoted, the metalworking scene is often used in archaeometallurgy books. It would actually be more helpful to see what is left of this tomb's decoration displayed back on site than little bits of it framed as scattered trophies of imperial plunder.
Now, how did that bit which the Germans bought get to London, when and how was it removed from the tomb? From which collector was it acquired?
Nevine El-Aref, 'Stolen 18th dynasty relief returns from Germany' Al Ahram, 23 Jul 2014.