Friday 13 April 2012

Ka Nefer Nefer Collecting History (V): Meanwhile...

The two variant versions of the collecting history most clearly clash in the period when the SLAM-promoted version has it in the possession of Zuzi Jelinek in Geneva. While the documentation supplied to the museum at the time of purchase by the dealer trying to sell it presents it as being in the Jelinek collection (see the earlier post on this and the house in which it was said to have been held), other documentation has it somewhere else.

When the alarm about the mask's whereabouts was initially raised, by Michel Van Rijn (whose previous flamboyant stay in St Louis is discussed here) and Ton Cremers they publicised an email by Marten Raven who drew attention to thefts from the storerooms at Saqqara, and more specifically the Sekhemkhet magazine to the south of the pyramid of Unas  there. This is the one where the mummy mask would have been held if it was still in Egypt. The storeroom contained finds from the Anglo-Dutch excavations (organised by the Egypt Exploration Society in London and the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden), and was looted after the 1985 season. Dr Raven witnessed the damage to the warehouse first-hand. After this theft, the storage facility was dismantled and the remaining contents relocated. This was the basis for the initial demands that St Louis Museum presented more information supporting its claim of rightful ownership (open letter to St Louis Art Museum director Brent Benjamin requesting information about how the mask had made its way into the museum collection). This is discussed in the February 2006 article: Kaufman, Jason E. 2006a. “This mask belongs to Egypt”, Art Newspaper no 167, March, 4 (reply: Kaufman, Jason E. 2006b. “’This mask is ours’ says St Louis Art Museum”, Art Newspaper no 170, June, 5). 

There seems to be some confusion about what should be in those Saqqara magazines. We recall Goneim's problems were caused by the lack of proper documentation in the 1950s about what was where (he was falsely accused of having let objects be stolen from Saqqara, which later turned up in Cairo). When the mask's collecting history began to be discussed more widely, Zahi Hawass was less clear than he was later about what had happened to the mask since its excavation in 1952. He is quoted in the article "This mask belongs in Egypt" as saying:

“The mask of Ka-nefer-nefer was excavated by Dr Goneim in 1952 and then, like most excavation finds, stored in the Saqqara warehouse, as property of the SCA. It was never, to my knowledge, brought to the Cairo Museum [where finds from Saqqara were sometimes stored]. Therefore, it was...stolen from the storeroom and certainly left Egypt illegally.”
Certainly there were later thefts from the storerooms. Two alabaster vessels in the form of trussed ducks (excavated by the German Archaeological Institute at Dahshur in 1979 and stored in Saqqara) were returned to Egypt in 2008, one by Christie's Auction House, New York, and the other by Rupert Wace Ancient Art Ltd., London (who had earlier acquired it from the Piasa auction house - but see here see herePiasa auction house in Paris). Two additional vessels remain missing. Nevine El-Aref ('Safe and coming home', Al Ahram Weekly, 29 May - 4 June 2008) reports the return in 2008 of another Saqqara artefact, a green 19th-Dynasty ushabti figure of a woman named Hener (removed from sale by auction with the help of Egypt's ambassador to Holland, and in custody in the Leiden Museum following an Amsterdam court verdict). This had been excavated in Saqqara in 1985 by a team from Leiden University. In the SCA account of this piece we get the fuller history of what was determined after 2006:

It was stolen from the Sekhemkhet Magazine at Saqqara in 1987, along with a number of other pieces. This theft was not discovered until an inventory of the magazine in 1995.
It seems though that the Egyptian authorities ascertained that the Ka Nefer Nefer mask had not been among the objects stolen in 1987. They knew that the batch of objects from Goneim's excavations in which the mask should be included were in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo at the time of the Saqqara theft. But the mask was not among them (this was used initially by SLAM to support their claim that the object had never been in that collection - because, they suggest, it had been awarded to the excavator in 1952). This is what excavator of Saqqara Maarten Raven said in 2006. By 2008 it was being stated by the Egyptian authorities that the object had gone missing in 1959 (when Ka-nefer-nefer's funerary mask, along with a number of other objects from Goneim's excavations, was transported from the Saqqara storerooms to the Cairo Museum en route to Tokyo for inclusion in an exhibition that was never mounted). This is the account given on the March 2009 webpage of the Cultural Heritage Resource of the Stanford Archaeology Center
This register (pictured on the Stanford website) shows the object officially entered the Saqqara store and apparently contains no record of deaccession.
SLAM demanded documentation of the presence of the mask in the Egyptian collections, and in response the Egyptian authorities sent a copy of such a document. I am not clear when it was sent, but it is referred to in a text of October 2008 ('St. Louis museum proud of its ancient mask purchase, but Egypt calls it a steal', New York Times 24 oct 2008):
Ghoneim registered his discovery in the official ledger at the government warehouse, or magazine, at Saqqara. The page in the ledger book, a key document Egypt has presented to St. Louis to stake its claim, shows a high-quality photograph of the mask, the finder's name and ID number, and a detailed description.
[Most other accounts of the existence of this ledger date from the end of November 2008]. I understand there is no mention in that register that the object was officially deaccessioned. 

Obviously SLAM must hold the position that the Saqqara ledger page they were shown is a later fake. They have offered no proof however that would stand in a court of law that this is the case.  

The Stanford Archaeology Center webpage shows what the state-of-play was in March 2009:
 H[awass] produced documentation to show that it had been registered as the property of the Egyptian government by 1953, and that in 1959 it had been transported from storage in Saqqara to Cairo for display in the Egyptian Museum. Unfortunately, there is no documentation to show that the mask ever arrived in Cairo, and the assumption is that it must have been stolen sometime after 1959. Nevertheless, this would have been seven years after the mask is alleged to have been on the European antiquities market.
Subsequent to 2008, new information turned up (the records of transport movements will be on paper in those pre-computer days and we have seen recently just how many problems the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is having dealing with its records) which showed that the object did not disappear in 1959. This is significant, because of course an object disappearing in 1959 could appear in the Jelinek collection in Geneva (and indeed the Kaloterna collection in Zagreb) in "the early 1960s". 

The SCA "missing artefacts" website summarises the newly-emerged facts (this was last updated 26 may 2011, but it is unclear when these new facts were added)
In 1959, Ka-nefer-nefer's funerary mask, along with a number of other objects from Goneim's excavations, was transported from the Saqqara storerooms to the Cairo Museum en route to Tokyo for inclusion in an exhibition that was never mounted. It was returned [to] Saqqara, and then sent to the antiquities department conservation lab attached to the Egyptian Museum in 1966. In 1973, many of the objects from the burial of Ka-nefer-nefer were registered at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. The mask was not among these objects; since it was the most important object in the assemblage, we can infer that it was missing by that time.
On page 2 of Judge Autrey's dismissal of the case we read:
To support its legal conclusion that the Mask was stolen, the Government alleges that the Mask was excavated at Saqqara, Eqypt, in 1952, placed in storage in Saqqara following its excavation where it remained until 1959, and then was “packed for shipping” to Cairo, Egypt, in preparation for an exhibit in Tokyo, Japan. The complaint further states that the Mask was “received by police guards” in Cairo in July of 1959, but instead of traveling to Tokyo, it remained in Cairo until 1962 when it was transferred back to Saqqara. The verified complaint further states that the Mask was removed from Saqqara in 1966 and “traveled” to Cairo in “box number fifty-four,” the “last documented location of the Mask in Egypt.” The complaint then goes on to state that in 1973, an inventory was taken of box number fifty-four, whereupon it was discovered the Mask was “missing.”
On the basis of those facts (ie treated as such) he then sees no grounds for accepting the object was stolen. The point is however if we accept that the mask was in a box in Egypt as late as 1966, this cannot be squared with it having been in the Kaloterna and then Jelinek collections in "the early 1960s". If we accept that fact, the letter Ms Jelinek wrote to Hicham Aboutaam in 1997 no longer has any evidential value. It states things which are not in accord with other facts.

So have the Egyptians and US government just made up "box 54"? This is what SLAM would have to assert - but then accusing a fellow museum of falsifying the records, they really ought to have better proof than the fact that they have in their files a single letter by Ms Jelinek (reportedly Aboutaam's landlady, somebody not known to have collected any antiquities of this class, and stating facts reportedly contradicted by her own son). [They also have the Charly Mathez letter - more on that later]

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