Wednesday 13 February 2019

The 'Curse of Sekhemka' Strikes Again?

Words not to be taken lightly
Andy Brockman notes 'sometimes it is hard not to believe in the #CurseofSekhemka. Four pump fire at Northampton Museum which is undergoing renovations, which Northampton Borough Council says, are paid for by the controversial sale of #Sekhemka. Council Leader states artifacts had been removed'. For the Curse itself, see here - and the possible consequences of ignoring it here.

I put this down to coincidence, but readers may remember the post I wrote on the 'Curse of Ka Nefer Nefer' (note the date), the writing and publication of which coincided with freak weather conditions at St Louis (the region of the airport to be precise) in which lives were lost - so when I found out about it, I did not publicise it at the time). Though not superstitious, I am not going to be doing any more 'ancient Egyptian curse' stunts on this blog.

But the point raised - about the deliberate appropriation and use for decoration and entertainment of loose objects taken from mortuary deposits is a moral and ethical issue that needs confronting by archaeologists and collectors.
I think we tend to forget that, in the case of Ancient Egypt, many of the eagerly collected trophies (portable antiquities) which find themselves in foreign hands had for their original users deep religious significance, not to mention were intimately connected in their minds with their future fate. Sekhemka's 'shadow' (stature in his likeness) was (is) the house for his ka-soul. Only the maintenance of offering to this statue according to the prescribed rite (hardly likely to have been continuing in Castle Ashby or Northampton) prevented the akh-soul (a combination of the ba and ka) from experiencing a second death. By removing him from his tomb, looters killed Sekhemka, who, in the eyes of his culture, now wanders the earth as a homeless living dead. Perhaps some of my less culturally-sensitive readers are scoffing at such notions, but in what way does this tomb-statue differ from a Hopi mask, Native American kachinas, sacred artefacts, African fetishes, Jewish Torah scrolls, Australian tjuringa stones or the sacred objects of any other culture (including our own)?

Once upon a time some artefact collectors, wanting to create a good impression, wrote a "Code of Ethics"  (most of which they pinched from me) which said they'd not touch such items. Let us see tomorrow afternoon how "ethical" collectors will be faced with a trophy item as unprecedented as Sekhemka's soul. How many millions is a dead man's soul worth?

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