Saturday 12 April 2014

Egypt: More Human Remains and Sarcophagi in Illicit Trade

Part of the confiscated collection

Nevine El-Aref , Egyptian police confiscate three mummies from smuggling gang Al-Ahram  12 Apr 2014

In Egypt, the tourism and antiquities police stopped a gang trying to sell illegally-obtained antiquities from  Fayoum. They seized a group of 11 ancient artefacts.
Director of Fayoum Antiquities Ahmed Abdel-Aal told Ahram Online that the confiscated pieces seem authentic but are not registered in official documents, which means that they may have been taken from illegal excavations at archaeological sites. He explained that the objects are from the Graeco-Roman era and include three wooden sarcophagi, all containing mummies. One of the mummies is an adult male, and the other two are adult females. The collection also included five wooden portraits and the coverings of the sarcophagi depicting the busts of the deceased. 
This really raises the question, what sort of person would be interested in buying human remains to put on display in their homes? The photo accompanying the article seems not to be a stock photo and illustrates "Part of the confiscated collection" and in it we can see three rather chunky and unattractive sarcophagi, but also two pieces of mummy case lid sawn off at chest level for ease of transport and display in a confined space (presumably the rest of the case was visually uninteresting and simply disrespectfully discarded, together with the human remains it had housed). There are also four of what the antiquities trade calls "mummy masks", which are nothing of the kind. They are the block that was pegged to the front board of a mummy case lid in which the face was carved, gessoed and painted (look closely at the sawnoff in the foreground for the relationship between these two elements). the antiquities trade has always been more interested in faces and heads than the rest (check out any dealer's website), so some thief has simply levered the face off the coffin, chucked the rest away and is marketing the "portrait" without the encumbrance of the rest of the coffin.

It's perfectly marketable like that. Anyone who'll buy no-questions-asked a paperless "antiquity" will have no qualms in buying part of a dismembered whole, robbed from some guy's grave, and yet still, have the impudence to claim they are in some way contributing to an "appreciation " of (and "respect for") the ancient culture and its products. What supreme arrogance and excruciating Philistinism. Collectors who buy such things are contributing to the destruction of the cultural heritage just as much as the bloke with the crowbar and the slimebag who sold it - knowing full well that there is no way he can verify the "almost-certainly-licit origins" he glibly claims for it along with Jamie Ede in his Apollo-Magazine article.  Shame on the whole lot of them.

And their nasty lobbyist Peter Tompa has the utter nerve in his text on ancient Egyptian faces (after attacking SAFE awardee Monica Hanna) to suggest patronisingly that the interest of the international antiquities market in crowbarred-off coffin-faces is a "mess entirely of Egypt's own making". No it is not, it's a mess created by the no-questions-asked market he lobbies on behalf of. How dare he say such a thing?


Thutmose said...

Absolutely shameful comments by Mr. Tompa there. Monica Hanna is doing what she can to protect the artifacts in Egypt no matter who is in the government.

Paul Barford said...

I have come to the conclusion that Mr Tompa has no shame. It's the awful people he hangs out with.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Shameful, huh? I will be reporting on Monica Hanna's admissions at today's talk at the Woodrow Wilson Center shortly. The only thing that's nasty is this kind of response to the views of someone who honestly disagrees with your approach and those of others like Ms. Hanna who are ideologically opposed to collecting.

Paul Barford said...

Basically, as a result of following your blog for a number of years, I no longer accept that your disagreement with anyone's approach to preservation has anything to do with "honesty". You clearly write what you write not because it is the result of rational thinking and analysis, but because its what your paymasters in the trade associations want to see. Your actions in CPO are exactly analogous to the 'spontaneous protests' of Putin's masked men in Donietsk. Shame on you.

Your personal attack on her was uncalled for and does you and your sponsors no credit.

I would imagine that anyone who'd seen what Ms Hanna has would not be exactly favourably inclined towards the collectors who'd buy the products of such destruction no-questions-asked.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Once again, my blog has no paymaster. And once again, still waiting for you to explain to your readers and mine what exact work you do for UNESCO and other government sponsored archeological organizations. (You referenced it before but with no explanation.) We need more transparency here.

Paul Barford said...

I wrote "sponsors". Well, my tracking software shows that for you blogging you use at least two different two computers, one of which is active primarily in what may be seen as office hours, the other mostly out of office hours. How are we to interpret that?

If the blog is not part of your paid lobbying, how would you characterise what it is you are doing, and what is the purpose of CPO?

Cultural Property Observer said...

Glad you care so much-- or perhaps a bit obsessed. I have the opportunity to blog at work if I choose. It's okay with my firm, but its not paid for by anyone. Now, some transparency please about your work for UNESCO and other state sponsored archaeological organizations.

I wonder whether Gill and Elkins use their work computers for their blogging. Can you tell?

Paul Barford said...

Let us just say I think it is important to keep an eye on where in the Washington region they are reading what. Let's call it intellectual curiosity.

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