Thursday 28 April 2011

How Does this Sort of thing Happen?

Rather embarrassing, but I am sure it was dealt with consummate diplomatic delcacy by the recipients of a rather special gift. A delegation from the Gaza strip led by former Palestinian minister of foreign affairs Mahmoud El-Zahar delivered some objects they believed had been looted from Egypt to Egypt’s Minister of State for Antiquities on Thursday. The pieces were found in the Gaza strip "with Palestinians who were caught red-handed and accused of smuggling antiquities". The pieces concerned are black "granite " (sic) statues apparently "depicting an ancient Egyptian god" and "an ushabti figurine". But this is apparently what they look like:

It probably did not however take very long for the MSAA ("an archaeological committee from the MSAA, led by Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, general supervisor of the Minister's office") to determine that these objects were replica statues and not genuine pieces. If this was the only evidence against the "smugglers" from whom they were confiscated, then they are owed at the least an apology. These fakes are not even good fakes, the head is a ridiculous fake. Now its not the fault of the former Minister of foreign affairs, recognising authentic and fake antiquities is not one of the tasks normally expected of a minister. But surely the Palestinians have archaeologists who should have been consulted before a diplomatic mission made a bit of fool of itself... but of course the intended gesture was indeed praiseworthy. This is not the only case, there's some doubt in my mind about the Mexican relief due to come back soon if it really is the one pictured in the newspaper article about it the other day, then we have the Jordanians crowing that they got some leaden tablets forming part of the same assemblage as the David Elkington ones....

All of this only goes to show how many FAKES there are on the no-questions-asked market masquerading as authentic and looted. Caveat emptor- verifiable documentation of legitimate provenance at once sorts out the wheat from the chaff.

Could diplomatic exchanges not begin in future with an exchange of photos of the antiquities that are being returned, so diplomats receiving them know what to expect and newspapers can have the photos to show citizens what they are getting back?

Nevine El-Aref , 'Palestine handed over to Egypt two objects thought to be antiquities', 28 Apr 2011.

UPDATE: This case is discussed on Dr Hawass' blog: 'Objects Returned to Egypt', Apr 30th 2011. It turns out that the men accused of smuggling had been jailed, Dr Hawass said he asked the Palestinians to release them because these objects were not antiquities and no law had been broken.

It turns out that Mahmoud al-Zahar's journey to Hawass' office was the first stop in a journey from Gaza to visit Sudan, Syria and Turkey — a trip they could never have taken under Mubarak, and indicating a significant realignment of Egypt's foreign policies. So the delivery of fake artefacts may have actually been only a cover.

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