Saturday 20 March 2010

More Wenneb shabtis on Sale

One "Meechmunchie" (sic) reports on the Yahoo Ancient Artefacts discussion forum that:
It seems like ever since news broke that these objects might be looted there's been a firesale of sorts of Wenneb shabtis on Ebay. I guess ebay buyers are less discerning about that sort of things than customers at actual dealers. Anyway, I'd like to know why Paul Barford (I know this topic is going to attract him like a bug to a light...) thinks these objects have been looted from a newly discovered tomb. Has this been confirmed? Published? If not, why not? This information can only prevent the sale of looted objects if it's published and referable.
Also, I am pretty sure the "Opener of the roads exists" translation of the back of these shabtis is not correct. Why say "the opener of the roads"? The god's name is Wepwawet, which means "the opener of ways" but probably shouldn't be translated literally. It's irking me that people are quoting it, but that's neither here nor there. This post is prompted by the sale of a large lot of these shabtis on ebay currently.
"Bug to a light"? A better analogy for this business would be "a carrion crow to a rotting carcass".

Let's start with the translation of the hieroglyphic inscription. This was not mine, but as I said in my original post is that of some amateurs, collectors of Egyptian dugups who have taught themselves to read hieroglyphics. I am perfectly happy to see this as their mistake, perhaps they will take another look in the light of "Meechmunchie's" suggestions.

Those now being sold on ebay are being offered by seller JFF-Armarna who is based in Homberg, Germany and is quite new (33 feedback points). The sale in question is #250600498508 of "10 Egyptian Faience Ushabtis w. hieroglyphic Text, from my private collection ( previously London art market)" with a buy it now price of US $999.00. The two earlier auctions still visible in the seller's feedback are for a Fayencekette aus Mumienperlen 136cm (#250575104219) und "Ancient Egyptian Scarab of Thutmosis III from my private collection".
One might note that the ten shabtis now being offered for a relatively low price are pretty crude examples as these "Wenneb-shabtis" go. Whoever the person on the "London art market" had obtained this job lot from, the seller had perhaps already got rid of the best of the bunch.

There are a number of reasons why it may be thought that these objects have been looted from a newly discovered tomb and they are presented in several earlier posts on this blog: here , here , here and here for example. Basically, there have been quite a number of these items appearing on the market at the same time, one English dealer is reputed to have (had) "hundreds". None of the items being offered for sale has anything more precise offered as a provence than "from an old [insert country name] collection" type provenances. It is believed that there are no examples known in museum collections, or in old auction catalogues. If there had been a legitimate group of pre-year-X exports of a full tomb assemblage of 365+ shabtis being split up in recent years, collectors would have heard of it. And so on. While none of these features indvidually mean the objects are looted, the combination of several factors together makes this look very likely. So much so that when these objects were being discussed last year, two UK sellers who had them withdrew them from sale and returned them to their source (but see below).

Meechmunchie asks "Has this been confirmed? Published? If not, why not? This information can only prevent the sale of looted objects if it's published and referable". Well, I am not a policeman. It is not my job to confirm is a crime has been committed, or publish that information (I get enough trouble for the things I write on my personal blog!). As I have sais time and time again, I think it is up to collectors to establish for themselves whether any particular item they are ofered is of licit origins or not. Nobody is going to hold their hand while they do so. If they want to collect responsibly, then they need to take responsibility for their own actions. All of the points made above could be determined and confirmed by any collector (or dealer for that matter, but they have a vested interest in not looking).

I did make the point that there should be some kind of antiquities hotline where notifications can be made to the proper authorities. At the moment, since these shabtis are by now scattered all over western Europe as well as the US, who would investigate and prosecute? Who would they go after? But the hotline I am interested in would be to catch cultural criminals, not to prevent indiscriminate collectors becoming ("unwitting") accessories to a crime.

As for disseminating information about such potential problematic material, I have also made the point that antiquities discussion forums like Yahoo's ancient artifacts should have an open archive. Although a lot of discussion on Wenneb shabtis went on there a while ago, this is totally inaccessible to a websearch should anyone who is not a member of that forum (in Yellowknife Canada, for example) be interested in buying one and does a search for parallels before parting with their cash.

Who was the London dealer Mr JFF-Armarna says he bought these ten shabtis from? Information that was being passed round the collectors' grapevine about the origin of these "Wenneb shabti" was that "most of them are now comming from an English dealer who has hundreds of them. I asked dealers in Spain England USA and Italy, they all say that they came in the first place from England". Who is this mysterious dealer that several people are buying stuff from "in good faith" but nobody wants to talk about?

A little transparency from the dealers that have handled these items might be helpful in untangling the problem of the source of these items. After all, if they acquired them legitimately from a legitimate source with all due diligence required by the ADA code of conduct for example, why hide it? Where did these things come from, how did they get on the "London art market"? In the storeroom of which antiquity seller does the rotting carcass of Wenneb lie?

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