Sunday, 11 October 2009

"Due diligence" and collecting

There has been some recent hoo-haa about the excavations of the Louvre at Sakkara in Egypt being suspended over the fact that they had some Egyptian relief fragments in their collections which turned out to be stolen from a Theban tomb. The case has been discussed by David Gill and others (Looting Matters here and subsequent posts updating the story). I was more interested in what the Louvre might have been expected to know about the origin of these fragments before buying them.
The news reports tell us that the items came from the tomb of Tetaki (Ttjkj/ Tetiki). A little bit of mouse-clicking reveals this is Theban Tomb 15, in the Dra Abu al Naga cemetery, early XVIIIth Dynasty in date, from the reign of Ahmose/Amenhotep I.

According to the Theban Mapping Project, it is published:
Carnarvon, Earl of and Howard Carter. Five Years Explorations at Thebes. Oxford, 1912. Pp. 12-21, pls. 1-12.
Davies, N. de Garis. The Tomb of Tetaky at Thebes (No. 15). JEA 11 (1925): 10-18.
Eaton-Krauss, Marianne. Four Notes on the Early Eighteenth Dynasty. JEA 84 (1988): 205-210.
Kampp, Friederike. Die thebanische Nekropole. Zum Wandel des Grabgedankens von der XVIII. bis zur XX. Dynastie (= Theben, 13). 2 vols. Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1996. Pp. 194-196, figs. 96-98.
Porter, Bertha and Rosalind Moss. Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Text, Reliefs, and Paintings. I, 1. The Theban Necropolis: Private Tombs. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960. Pp. 26-27.

As far as I can make out (the map of the Theban tombs I have is relative to the old road system), the tomb is in the low rise behind the houses in the middle of the Google Earth picture here.

The road to the left is that which leads to the Hatshepsut Temple (where I will be working in three weeks, more of that later) the yellow winding road is that which takes tourists round the hills to the Valley of the Kings.

Now I have not seen any pictures of the disputed fragments, nor do I know to what degree one could work out from the Carnarvon/Carter and Davies publications that these were parts of these reliefs, it would be useful if this information could be made available pour encourager les autres. It can be seen however that this is not some tomb stuck out in the middle of the desert sixty miles from the nearest habitation but right in the middle of one of the most intensively visited and investigated archaeological complexes in the world. This must be intensely embarrassing for the Louvre. This must be intensely embarrassing for the Egyptian Antiquities Service (which has guards posted all over the Theban necropolis to stop these things happening).

The objects were robbed (we are told) in the 1980s but bought by the Louvre in 2000 and 2003. Where had they been in the interim? Let us hope that the story does not end just with four pieces of stone going back to Egypt, let there be a full investigation of all those who handled them, to trace the trail of the handling of stolen items back to its source.

Somewhere - possibly in the houses visible in the satellite photo - there is a crowbar-wielding culture-thief who somehow got into the tomb and smashed these bits out of the wall. Over the river (probably) is a dealer who bought the fragments from him and aranged to have them smuggled out of the country. If those handling them outside Egypt did not do so no-questions-asked, there would be every chance that these two could still be discovereed and brought to justice. But my guess is these guys sleep soundly for we all know the trail will stop dead somewhere in western Europe probably at the place where they were just before 2000. But then, what should happen to the dealer in antiquities in whose records the attempt to unravel backwards the trail of movement of stolen antiquities ends abruptly? Should they not be liable at least for the money the Louvre lost?

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