Friday 15 April 2011

The theft of the golden mask

Zahi Hawass has a new book coming out, about the theft of antiquities from Egypt which should be a good read and is bound to have some stunning photographs. It will deal with "how such antiquities were smuggled out of the country, as well as how they were returned, following conflicts and deliberations with those who found themselves in possession of stolen artifacts" (Zahi Hawass , 'The theft of the golden mask', Asharq Alawsat 15/4/2011).

After denouncing those who use the recent thefts and looting to claim that returned objects are not as safe in Egypt as in other countries, he then discusses the St Louis Ka Nefer Nefer mask which is "a vivid example of the conflict between those who claim that our stolen antiquities should remain abroad, and the broad range of archaeologists who call for these antiquities to be returned to their native Egypt".
Dr. Mohammed Zakaria Ghoneim, may he rest in peace, discovered this beautiful mask in [1950 at the Saqqara pyramids near Cairo]. It remained in storage until 1966, when it was on its way to the Egyptian Museum, where it was scheduled to be shipped to Japan to feature in an exhibition when it disappeared. Official records confirm that the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask was in Egypt until at least 1966, and evidence suggests that it was stolen en route to the Egyptian museum. The mask never arrived at the museum, nor was it registered in the museum's records, but the question remains: Who stole the mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer? And how did it leave Egypt?/
Hawass answers his own question with the following statement:
It seems that this was the work of an organized international gang smuggling antiquities from Egypt, and one of its most prominent members was well known to the FBI and the Egyptian intelligence services. This thief was able to steal many artifacts from Egypt, and was heavily involved in the case known as the "great artifact robbery". This thief stole the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask and sold it to the Saint Louis Art Museum in America.
That is a pretty transparent allegation. Although the object ended up with an international dealer, any evidence the Egyptian intelligence service may have linking them directly with the actual theft has, I think, never been made public. Hawass goes on to say:
a formal request was sent to the Saint Louis Art Museum in order to recover the mask, and later a formal request was sent to the US Congress and the St. Louis Senator. When we did not receive a positive response, we turned our attention to civil society, contacting school students in the city asking them not to visit the museum, because it was in possession of stolen Egyptian artifacts. We did not try to raise the issue in U.S. courts, given the high financial costs that are unfortunately associated with these types of issues. It is Egypt's antiquities that are in most need of these funds, for their restoration and care. After thinking long and hard, the file was sent to the Department of Homeland Security in the U.S., and they conducted a series of measures to get the mask and return it to Egypt. However, the museum quickly filed a lawsuit against the Department, to stop the process. The museum management claimed that Egypt had donated this mask to the late Zakaria Ghoneim, but these words are lies and cannot be believed.Soon, we will send Egyptian archeologists to America to testify in this case, in order to ensure the return of this mask to Egypt after its long absence.
Well, it's no use contacting US senators, I don't think many of them care. As it seems is the case with the citizens of St Louis whose schoolkids still go and gaze on stolen property.


René O'Deay said...

FYI, Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask is not gold, it is painted with some gold. more info at:
Looting History bog: wishlist One mask

Paul Barford said...

"FYI, Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask is not gold" I know, I took it as rhetorical - in any case "golden" refers to colour and not just material (as in "her golden hair tumbled down in a cascade over her bronzed shoulders").

[There is actually quite a bit MORE "info" on my blog about the mask and the controversy surrounding it than in the article you cite...].

René O'Deay said...

well, that was just one article I found. there's lots more when you google for it. (by the way, that is not my blog or article.)

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