Tuesday 7 July 2020

"The Ezeldeen Taha Eldarir Collection": Nearly six hundred Egyptian 'Antiquities' Seized in New York (January - July 2020)

The Department of Justice press release names a man alleged to be an antiquities smuggler ('Brooklyn Man Indicted on Cultural Artifacts Smuggling Charges' DOJ Press release Monday, July 6, 2020)
An indictment has been returned in federal court in Central Islip, New York charging Ashraf Omar Eldarir, a U.S. citizen, with smuggling Egyptian cultural property into the United States. Eldarir was previously arrested on a complaint in February 2020 after arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) with three suitcases filled with undeclared Egyptian antiquities. [...] on January 22, 2020, Eldarir arrived at JFK from Egypt with three checked suitcases. Eldarir falsely declared to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that he was carrying goods valued at only 300 U.S. dollars. However, when CBP officers opened Eldarir’s suitcases they found 590 bubble and foam-wrapped Egyptian antiquities. When the protective wrapping was opened, loose sand and dirt spilled out, and some of the items smelled of wet earth, indicators that the artifacts had been recently excavated.  [...]  Eldarir did not produce any of the required documentation from Egypt authorizing the export of the artifacts. Eldarir was charged with one count of smuggling arising from this incident, and one count of smuggling involving an earlier trip in which he smuggled an ancient Egyptian polychrome relief. [...] “These cultural treasures traveled across centuries and millennia, only to end up unceremoniously stuffed in a dirt-caked suitcase at JFK,” stated United States Attorney Donoghue. [...] The charges in the indictment are allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. If convicted, Eldarir faces a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment on each count. 

The seized artefacts 
The damp earth smell could also have been caused by the objects being recently removed from a damp underground storage space. Note the verbal association between the carrier and 'dirt'. There were a variety of objects, typical of the sort of thing collectors seek to add to their collections:
Among the items recovered by law enforcement officers are gold amulets from a funerary set; a relief with the cartouche of a Ptolemaic king that was originally part of a royal building or temple; wooden tomb model figures with linen garments dating to approximately 1900 BCE; and two complete Roman period funerary stelae of the type found at Kom abu Bellou in Egypt.
The indictment contains a fuller list of the objects:
(a) forty-one ( 41) ancient Egyptian gold artifacts;
(b) nineteen ( 19) ancient coins;
(c) two (2) Greco-Roman rings;
(d) thirty-one (31) ancient Egyptian talismans (Ptolemaic period);
(e) fourteen (14) ancient beads;
(f) twenty-six (26) ancient Egyptian wooden figures;
(g) four hundred (400) ancient Egyptian faience shabtis; (h) three (3) ancient Egyptian wooden panels with painted figures;
(i) one (I) ancient Egyptian large stone face;
(j) two (2) Egyptian wooden masks;
(k) two (2) Egyptian stone panels with hieroglyphics;
(1) three (3) ancient Egyptian canopic jar lids;
(m) two (2) ancient Greco-Roman stela;
(n) one (1) ancient Greco-Roman terracotta headless torso with robes;
(o) seven (7) ancient Greco-Roman terracotta statues;
(p) three (3) ancient Egyptian large terracotta vases;
(q) two (2) Egyptian small terracotta vases;
(r) two (2) Egyptian alabaster artifacts;
(s) two (2) ancient Egyptian Osiris headpieces/crowns;
(t) twenty-six (26) ancient Greco-Roman oil lamps; and
(u) one (1) Greco-Roman terracotta pilgrim's flask,
The gold objects (a) and coins (b) are on the white paper in the middle. I can't distinguish the Graeco-Roman rings (c). Twenty three (?) of the amulets ('talismans') (d) are on the white paper sheets in the middle (I don't know why the are all said to be "Ptolemaic"), some of them seem quite big for the type. There are four 'sons of Horus' just above the HS logo. The beads (e) are also on the sheets of paper. There are 21 wooden figures (f) seen, most shabtis, at least one 'concubine figure'/doll, three tomb models, one looking a bit dubious in this photo. Likewise the standing figure on a pedestal at the back looks a bit odd, the face might be a modern modification (?), it is probably a knackered Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure (and the ostrich plume crown in the foreground possibly belongs to it). I did not count the faience shabtis (g), one group of 'jelly baby' miniatures all over the right hand side are Third Intermediate Period or later and may be mostly from the same tomb - to the left are some slightly bigger and better made shabtis (XIX dyn and later). The 'panels' (k) are actually heavily damaged (recently sawn-up) yellow-painted sarcophagus sides. The 'ancient egyptian large stone face' (i), top centre, looks a bit odd to me. Two 'masks' (j) are the wrenched off faces from mummy-cases (not the same as h). Those two stone panels (k) are presumably the ones next to the three canopic jar lids, cant say much about them from this photo. The canopic jar lids are all stained in a similar way, and might be thought to possibly have come from the same deposit (where's the fourth?) but all three represent Imsety... the two Graeco-Roman stele (m top right) both have freshly-sawn edges). The terracotta figure (n) is next to the sarcophagus bits, five of the other seven (o) are in the bottom left corner. They look a bit nasty, and some may be fakes (one of the ones at the back is a bit out of focus but looks more pre-columbian than anything else - but that's not really my field). I must admit to having a soft spot for black-top Naqada ceramics, dismissively referred to as 'large terracotta vases' here (p) and the third is also probably pre-dynastic too. I can only see one of the alabaster vessels (r), next to the pots. Likewise there seems to be only one horned ostrich-plume crown (it's not an Atef crown) fragment (s) on display. There are 26 lamps on show, but whether or not they are all real or 'Graeco-Roman' (or even from this region), I'll leave others to decide. The flask (u) is presumably the brown cylinder in the front on the left of the photo.

So its all a bit of a mix, material from at least one (Third Intermediate period??) tomb seems to be present, stuff looted from pre-dynastic cemeteries in Middle Egypt, and Hellenistic period sites as well. I suspect though that (as always) some fakes are mixed in too.

One wonders why Eldarir was stopped. It seems this was not the first time, in April last year he'd been stopped and searched and they found an ancient artefact. I guess he did not realise that antiquities dealers are on a watch list in the US. Another clue was the phrase 'dirty suitcases' used by a customs officer. There is also the mention of "loose sand and dirt" spilling out, and "some of the items smelled of wet earth". Was a sniffer dog trained to find antiquities used to check a passenger carrying three unusually dirty suitcases? Looking at this material, I wonder how much room would be left in an average suitcase after this material was crammed into it in bubble wrap. Possibly not a lot. Not enough for clothes for a long stay. Could it be that Eldarir was merely a courier and carrying suitcases packed in advance by a dealer in Egypt (that the suitcases were Egyptian rather than American)?

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