Wednesday 27 August 2014

Abandoned Antiquity Recognized not a Moment too Soon

Stephen Drake and the mummy case he found in empty house
A Cambridge auctioneer has found the lid of a Late Period (25th dynasty?) Egyptian coffin in a house in Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex.
 He said: “It really was quite bizarre. I’d been asked to look at the house by relatives of the previous owner, who’d died. “When I got there the renovation work was fully under way, and a large hole had been smashed in one of the outside walls. When I stuck my head through and looked inside, I was surprised to see the coffin lid leaning up against a wall in the corner, covered in dust and cobwebs. There was a painted face on it and some hieroglyphics. “It was just like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie.” Mr Drake said the new owners of the house had no idea what the coffin lid was, but imagined it had been part of a collection of ancient items. He said: “I believe the previous owner may have collected old artefacts. There were other very old items in the house.” 
Donna Yates is suggesting the object is a fake, though on what grounds I do not know. The object looks genuine to me, in very bad condition, water damage on one side, soot deposits all over it, except the face, which some jerk has repainted with what looks like yellow ochre emulsion paint, going across the missing area of the nose. Possibly under the paint is some gap-filling to tart it up. I presume this was done by the previous owner, who mercifully stopped at the comedy mask. This is a good reminder of what can happens to archaeological artefacts in private hands. Collectors suggest that all collectors 'preserve' the past and 'look after it'. This piece has lost its lower half, contents and any associated items and information about findspot, has been been mistreated terribly and ultimately abandoned - with it seems the present owners of the building and its contents totally unaware of what it could be (they probably live in a hole in the ground with no TV). They could easily have dumped it in a skip, but called in an estate clearer instead. Oh by the way, there is no "seaside" at Bradwell, just hectares of mudflats and marsh - and a nuclear power-station.
Chris Elliott, 'Raiders of the Lost Sarcophagus: Cambridgeshire auctioneer amazed to find ancient Egyptian coffin in seaside house' 26th August 2014.

UPDATE 16th September 2014:

The sarcophagus was found in the former home of the big game hunter and journalist Captain "Tiger" Sarll, who died in 1977, and his widow continued to live there until her death in 2005.
The two-metre artifact is an ancient Egyptian Ptolemaic coffin top made for "Hor, son of Wenennefer" and dating back to around 330 years BC, according to an initial assessment by Egyptologists at Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. [...] The coffin lid, described by the auction house as “a very rare and unusual Egyptian antiquity” is expected to fetch several thousand pounds when it goes under the hammer on Saturday, and dozens of advance bids have already been made from all over the world. Prospective buyers of the item, listed as Lot 1400 and described as “an interesting antique” are told “inspection advised” with some “paint loss and fading... worm holes...splits, slight movement to side.” 
Jonathan Owen, 'Egyptian embassy tries to prevent auction of 2,300-year-old coffin lid in Cambridgeshire', The Independent Friday 12 September 2014

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