Monday, 13 November 2017

Coffin Collection and Tomb Raid: Egyptian Police Seize Over 450 Historical Artefacts in Fayoum

objects laid out on the floor

Egypt Today, '464 historical artifacts seized by police in Fayoum', Nov. 9, 2017:
The Egyptian Tourism and Antiquities Police managed to seize 464 artifacts from illegal antiquities merchants in Fayoum. According to police reports, two certain cars visited Fayoum city regularly and sold a number of antiquities with the aim to smuggle them abroad. The police found 266 Ushabtis made from rare blue ceramic, eight wooden faces for a person, 12 statues made from blue ceramic, pottery statues, three pottery pots, 66 fragments from ancient coffins decorated with hieroglyphic inscriptions and a number of plates used in mummifications. A further 122 Ushabtis were found with the criminals, yet the statement has not clarified the materials they were made of.
Apparently 'Fayoum Antiquities checked the seized artefacts and verified their historical importance; confirming that the seized artefacts are antiquities. ', but it looks to me as if at least one of those ushebtis in the (admittedly) blurred photo is not a form known from authentic site finds. Anyway, that photo shows something much more telling. Look at what is on the floor. Most of it comes from tombs with only a few items that are most likely surface finds of settlements (some sherds for example) Is it a typical assemblage of finds that would be found in a freshly-opened tomb or cache of funerary equipment? Nope.

Note that most of the bits are small enough to put in a suitcase, and note the preponderance of straight edges on them. Over on the left are twelve mummy case fragments. The longest is the clumsily-painted white one in the middle looks to be about a metre and half of the front board, sawn off at knee level. The others (mummy case bits and what is possible a sarcophagus side) have been sawn up by the looters (or middlemen) into shorter portable and displayable fragments. The rest of the object from which these portableised 'antiquites' have been separated has been discarded and destroyed. Goodness knows what disrespect was done to the human remains from those coffins (see below). On the right we see eight faces pried off the front board of another eight coffins. Here we see the facile fascination of collectors with heads and faces, rather than, for example, nuances of the phrasing of the funerary inscriptions on the body of the coffin. These facial segments would only have been pegged on and the jagged gesso edges from the wrenched join needed tidying up with a knife. This is not ancient damage (as for where this sort of thing is sold, Randall Hixenbaugh, for example, has several). Again the rest of the coffin is discarded. On  the floor at the extreme left are some black shrivelled things, difficult to make out, but a fair guess might be that these are bits of mummy (human bodies) being sold as trophy curios - we've seen this kind of ghoulish behaviour among Egyptian artefact collectors a number of times.

Next time you hear a collect coming out with the usual self-serving crap about 'preserving' (or 'saving') the past remember the destruction wrought to the relics of the past by those that supply the no-questions-asked market with ever increasing numbers of unpapered objects which this typical assemblage of portable antiquities shows. 

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