Saturday, August 28, 2010

Finds from Whale Valley

Al Ahram Weekly (Mahmoud Bakr)

An Egyptian team has discovered a large number of prehistoric whale remains just north of Lake Qaroun in Fayoum south of Cairo. One of the whale skeletons is smaller than a basilosaurus, but bigger than a dorudon atrox, scientists say, making reference to the remains of other now extinct whale species already found in the vicinity.

The most interesting skeleton of those found, believed to be some 40-45 million years old, is characterised by its remarkably long vertebrae. The skull and the lower jaw of the skeleton have also been found intact, as have several ribs and some 20 vertebrae.

Scientists have also found 10 vertebrae from a whale slightly larger than a dorudon atrox, and they are now investigating whether the bones belong to a new species. Part of a dorudon atrox has also been uncovered, consisting of 15 vertebrae and a few ribs, as have several other partial skeletons of the same type, containing a total of 20 vertebrae, all in a well-preserved condition.


Archaeology Magazine

What can you say about Qatna, Syria? It's produced one amazing find after another for the German-Syrian team of Michel al-Maqdissi, Directorate General of Antiquities, and Peter Pfälzner from the University of Tübingen. (See "Messages from the Dead" for earlier discoveries at the site.) This year an unplundered "tomb-cellar" was found under the the northwest wing of the royal palace with hundreds of artifacts as well as human bones from 1600-1400 B.C.

There were 30 skulls suggesting at least that many individuals were placed there, likely members of the royal family or household. The bones were not in anatomical position but stacked in groups, indicating that these were secondary burials (perhaps even of earlier royals buried elsewhere and later moved to the tomb-cellar. There were numerous pottery and stone vessels. The stone ones are very interesting. Some are of granite and come from Egypt, BUT the are from the Old Kingdom, a thousand years before these burials. What's the explanation for that?

More re Kharga discovery

Yale Office of Public Affairs and Communications

With slideshow.

A Yale team led by Professor of Egyptology John Coleman Darnell has unearthed a lost city—site of a massive bread-making industry—that flourished more than 3,500 years ago in the Western desert of Egypt.

The discovery of the remains of this mud-brick settlement, which functioned as an administrative center as well as major supplier of bread, stands to shed new light on an obscure era in Egyptian history, the Second Intermediate Period, when rival factions contended for domination of what had been a prosperous state united under Pharaonic rule, asserts Darnell.

During this period, invaders from Asia, the Hyksos, seized control of the Nile Delta in the north; the Nubian kingdom of Kerma was centered in the south, and what remained of
Pharaonic power struggled to survive in the Thebaid, the region around modern Luxor.
Egyptologists have focused on these three contending groups during this intermediate period, and how the weakest of these, the Pharaonic forces based in Thebes, managed to come out on top has always been something of a mystery, says Darnell.

Osirisnet updated with TT38, Tomb of Djeserkaseneb,


Those lovely guys at Osirisnet have been working late into the night again to produce five pages of description, photographs, diagrams, maps and translations of the tomb's hieroglyphs. This website is quite simply one of the best Egyptology resources on the Web.

Dear friends,
We are happy to be able to present you the tomb TT38 of Djeserkaseneb, who occupied the functions of accountant of the grain of Amon, and steward of the Second Prophet of Amon. Although incomplete, the decoration is of quality, which was usual during this period, which covers the end of the reign of Thutmosis IV and the beginning of that of Amenhotep III. The monument underwent some deteriorations by the zealots of Akhenaten, who erased the name of Amon (and other elements appropriate to the loathed god).

Tombs of Egypt

Photographing the Orient

Al Ahram Weekly (Mohamed Mursi)

Anyone walking down Sherif Street in downtown Cairo is likely to have had their eyes drawn to the Lehnert and Landrock bookshop, its window display signalling the many treasures inside. These consist of the hundreds of old photographs that the original owners have left us, a heritage of indescribable beauty that pictures an "Orient" that no longer exists.

One of the original owners, Rudolf Lehnert, was born in Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in July 1878. His partner Ernst Landrock was born in Germany a month later. Lehnert, a gifted photographer, was the more artistically inclined of the two, with Landrock being the one with the more business acumen. In today's terminology, Landrock would be the agent acting to promote Lehnert's work.

It was when Lehnert was touring Europe on foot in 1903 that he decided to venture across the Mediterranean to look at sites in Tunisia. He ended up staying there for a year, and it was during this time that his friendship with Landrock began.

"The Pharoah" goes to war

Al Masry Al Youm

With video.

Zahi Hawass has never exactly been afraid of making enemies. Egypt’s 63-year-old antiquities chief (a man who cheerfully refers to himself as “The Pharoah”) has, over the years conducted public feuds with fellow Egyptologists, prominent international museums and a host of alternative archeologists who he cheerfully dismisses as “pyramidiots.”

Hawass’ latest target isn’t exactly new; for years he has railed against foreign museums holding onto treasured Egyptian artifacts that he believes should be returned home. At the top of this list is the Rosetta Stone, currently housed in the British Museum in London.

“I believe that unique artifacts and masterpieces should not be away from their mother countries,” Hawass said in an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm. “Even if some of the artifacts left legally, still I want them back!”

Photo for Today - Man with calf and dog

Copyright Rick Menges, with my thanks for both the photo and for finding the descriptions

Old Kingdom artwork is stunning.

(Hanging Fragment)
Man with Calf and Dog
Sculptor: Anonymous (Egyptian)
Date (Period): ca. 2400 BC (Old Kingdom)
Medium: carved limestone, red pigment
Measurements: 16 15/16 x 39 3/4 x 1 3/8 in. (43 x 101 x 3.5 cm)
Item Description:

This Old Kingdom relief fragment has suffered severe damage from salt since its original carving. This has caused pitting over many areas of the piece, especially on the foot of the man, the calf, and the dog. The preserved carving is in fine, raised relief, including such small details as the hair at the tip of the calf's tail and the 'elbow' on each of the dog's legs. The block was originally painted, and traces of red pigment still remains in some areas.

There are two separate scenes actually depicted, easily distinguished by the different scales of the figures. On the left is a man at small scale who bends over a calf, pushing at the rear with one hand while pulling on the rope tied around it's neck with the other. A single man doing this is uncommon, and the sharp angle at which the servant bends in order to simultaneously lead and push the calf from behind is also unusual. The man has short hair and wears a short, fitted kilt with a large tie at the waist. This type of kilt is first seen in the 4th Dynasty, but continues into the 6th Dynasty. The musculature of the man's biceps is paralleled in tombs of both the 4th and 5th Dynasty, such as the tomb of Nofer at Giza and that of Sekhem-ankh-ptah at Saqqara. Above the calf is an inscription which reads "Bringing the calf" (jn.t bhz).

Facing the man and calf is a dog, identifiable by his "long narrow muzzle, nearly straight facial profile, slender body, long neck and limbs" (Brewer, 116) as a greyhound, with a rope collar and curled tail. The dog stands at his master's feet, to whose scale he is carved. The tomb owner's staff crosses the body of the dog, as does his left foot. Above the dog is his name, Beha (bh3) possibly an abbreviation of "behkai" (oryx antelope), a dog's name known from other contexts. Beginning in the 5th Dynasty, dogs are commonly placed in hunting scenes, in the fields, or under the deceased's chair. However, a very similar scene to this one, in which the tomb owner stands with his dog at his feet, can be found at Giza in the tomb of Ha-ef-Ra-ankh from the middle or late 5th Dynasty. The type of the dog, as well as his collar are so similar that it is likely that the relief comes from this tomb or was made by the same craftsmen team in a tomb nearby.

The dual composition of the relief fragment suggests it is part of a larger wall scene in which various servants of the tomb owner's estate bring and present the products and wealth of his holdings to him. During the Old Kingdom these types of scenes were generally placed on the east and west walls of a tomb. The thick border which forms the left edge and base of the scene might imply that it was located either next to a door or as part of a long wall with multiple false doors and/or multiple scenes. The tomb from which the fragment originated must be located at Giza, and dates to the middle or late 5th Dynasty based on relief and composition.

(Left Side)
Statue Group of Nen-kheft-ka and His Wife, Nefer-shemes
Artist: Anonymous (Egyptian)
Date (Period): ca. 2350 BC (Old Kingdom)
Medium: limestone, traces of paint
Measurements: 21 7/16 x 12 3/16 x 8 3/4 in. (54.5 x 31 x 22.3 cm)
Item Description:
Found in a rock-cut tomb at Deshasheh, located about seventy miles to the south of modern Cairo, this pair statue of the mayor Nen-kheft-ka and his wife Nefer-shemes exemplifies in the pose and relative scale of its subjects the standard Egyptian artistic conventions for the representation of men and women. Nen-kheft-ka strides forward with his left foot and holds his arms closely at his sides, while his wife is depicted on a smaller scale and stands with her feet together. Each statue was carved separately and altered prior to burial to fit into a shared base.

(Center Head)
Man's Head with Curled Wig
Sculptor: Anonymous (Egyptian)
Date (Period): ca. 2490 BC (Old Kingdom)
Medium: carved anorthosite gneiss
Measurements: 5 1/8 x 4 5/16 x 4 13/16 in. (13 x 11 x 12.3 cm)
Item Description:
During the Old Kingdom, the tombs of courtiers and officials were usually placed near the pyramid complex of their monarch. These tombs, called "mastabas," typically contained one or more statues representing the deceased official, members of his family, and perhaps his servants. Meant as dwellings for the spirit of the individual, such sculptural representations ensured a continued existence in the afterlife.

This small non-royal head of dark, anorthosite gneiss is executed with great skill. The round face is emphasized by a round wig whose bands of curls radiate from a spot on the top of the head. The almond shaped eyes bulge slightly and are set under a natural brow line. The nose is straight with a slight bulb on the end of the nose. The philtrum is indicated above the full lips. The chin has a prominent bulge. The remains of the shoulders indicate that the neck of the statue was not long. The facial features are slightly asymmetrical, a feature prevalent in the Old Kingdom.

(Right Center)
Head of a Man
Sculptor: Anonymous (Egyptian)
Date (Period): ca. 2350-2280 BC (Old Kingdom)
Medium: limestone with paint
Measurements: 5 1/8 x 4 5/16 x 4 15/16 in. (13 x 11 x 12.5 cm)
Item Description:
This excellently worked head once belonged to a statue of a dignitary, but is now broken off at the neck. The head displays attention to detail both in the treatment of the facial features and in the careful indication of the tight curls forming the owner's wig. Remnants of a black-painted uninscribed pillar reach the middle of the back of the head. He wears a black wig of short concentric curls that covers his ears. His flesh was originally red (the typical skin color used to represent ancient Egyptian males); however only traces of red pigment remain around the edge of the face, the corners of the eyes, the sides of the neck, and on the mouth. The eyebrows and lids are carved in low relief. In addition to the extensive loss of pigment and the break at the neck, there is also damage to the nose, chin, lips, and the cheeks of this piece.

(Right Side)
Standing Man
Sculptor: Anonymous (Egyptian)
Date (Period): ca. 2250-2200 BC (late Old Kingdom)
Medium: wood
Measurements: 11 1/4 x 2 1/4 x 2 9/16 in. (28.5 x 5.8 x 6.5 cm)
Item Descrpition:
This wooden and probably originally painted statuette depicts a standing man with the left leg in advance. Wood was a popular material for Old Kingdom private sculpture.

This statuette would have been placed in the "serdab," or statue chamber, of the owner's tomb.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Discoveries in Syria reveal ancient trade routes to Nile

Monsters and Critics

An academic excavation team said Thursday it had uncovered artifacts which indicate that an ancient Bronze-Age kingdom in northern Syria had strong international trade relations with Nile river dynasties.

Peter Pfalzner, a professor at the University of Tuebingen and head of a joint German-Syrian archeology team, said that gifts originating from the Nile Valley and Mesopotamia were discovered in burial chambers at the ruins of a once royal city near what is now the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Sudan gold miners vie with archaeologists

The Daily News, Egypt (Guillaume Lavallee)

Dust-covered miners criss-cross Sudan's Nubian desert, absorbed by the drone of the pan-shaped metal detectors with which they scour the ground in search of gold.

The desert, about 500 kilometers (310 miles) northeast of Khartoum, draws thousands of fortune seekers, some of whom have arrived in their 4X4 vehicles and set up tents equipped with water barrels and enough food for weeks.

But it is also home to ancient relics from the Nubian kingdom, one of the earliest civilizations in the Nile valley, and archaeologists and officials fear that a crucial part of Sudan's heritage is being effaced as the miners pillage or accidentally damage the sites.

More re Marina El-Alamein

Al Ahram Weekly (Nevine El-Aref)

Holidaymakers to Egypt's northern coast will have more to entertain them than sun, sand and sea later this summer.

Starting in mid-September they can end a day spent on the beach by taking a virtual trip back to the Graeco-Roman era and exploring the archaeological site of Marina Al-Alamein, which 2,000 years ago was a major town and port known as Leucaspis.

Following years of restoration and development, the Marina archaeological site, situated not far from the World War II memorials at Al-Alamein, will open in the evenings from the middle of next month. The site is l96km west of Alexandra and 6km east of Al-Alamein. The site of the town stretches for 1km and is 0.5km wide, making it the largest archaeological site on Egypt's north coast.

Although historical records existed of the site of Leucaspis, as well as rudimentary plans of its layout, these were forgotten by the time construction began on the giant Marina holiday resort. Fortunately preliminary construction work revealed marble columns and other debris, and archaeologists stepped in to preserve the ruins.

Exhibition: Coins bring great change

Al Ahram Weekly (Nevine El-Aref)

The Egyptian Museum is holding a temporary exhibition on "Coins Through the Ages". Over the past eight years the museum has hosted a series of temporary exhibitions, the most recent of which focussed on five artefacts that had been repatriated to Egypt. The temporary exhibition gallery in Room 44 has also hosted a series of exhibitions on excavations under the direction of foreign missions, including teams from America, France, Poland and the Netherlands.

"Coins Through the Ages" includes a vast collection of gold, silver and bronze coins dating back to historical eras from the late Pharaonic right through the Mameluke period. Also featured in the exhibition are a gold belt of Ptolemy III Euergetes and a number of gold bullion pieces from the fourth century AD.

Photo for Today - Head of a Queen

Copyright Rick Menges, with my thanks for
both the photo and the caption

(Left) (No written description available)

(Right) Head of a Queen, Perhaps Cleopatra II or Cleopatra III
Artist: Anonymous (Egyptian)
Date (Period): ca. 140-120 BC (Greco-Roman)
Medium: limestone
Measurements: 9 3/4 x 7 x 8 7/8 in. (24.7 x 17.8 x 22.5 cm)
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Item Description:
Shown wearing a heavy wig composed of tiers of "corkscrew" curls, the queen also has a headband with a coiled uraeus serpent above her brow. Of the seven Ptolemaic queens named Cleopatra (the last being the Cleopatra associated with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony), this head may represent Cleopatra II or her daughter, Cleopatra III, both of whom lived in the 2nd century BC. The facial features are more individualized, reflecting the Greek influence of the Ptolemaic royal court.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Desert settlement provides insights into history of Egypt

Yale Alumni Magazine (Heather Pringle)

The newly found settlement in Kharga Oasis looks like an absolute gem. This story is much informative than yesterday's SCA press release and has some very useful details about the reasoning behind the excavation and the results so far. With thanks to Margot Sanger-Katz for sending me the link.

For much of the twentieth century, Egyptologists shied away from explorations in the vast sand sea known as the Western Desert. An expanse of desolation the size of Texas, the desert seemed too harsh, too implacable, too unforgiving a place for an ancient civilization nurtured on the abundance of the Nile. In spring, a hot, stifling wind known as the Khamsin roars across the Western Desert, sweeping up walls of suffocating sand and dust; in summer, daytime heat sometimes pushes the mercury into the 130 degree–Fahrenheit range. The animals, what few there are, tend to be unfriendly. Scorpions lurk under the rocks, cobras bask in the early morning sun. Vipers lie buried under the sand.

When Egyptologists finally began investigating the Western Desert, they gravitated first to the oases. But in 1992, a young American graduate student, John Coleman Darnell, and his wife and fellow graduate student, Deborah, decided to take a very different tack. The couple began trekking ancient desert roads and caravan tracks along what they called "the final frontier of Egyptology." Today, John Darnell, an Egyptologist in Yale's Near Eastern Languages and Civilization department, and his team have succeeded in doing what most Egyptologists merely dream of: discovering a lost pharaonic city of administrative buildings, military housing, small industries, and artisan workshops. Says Darnell, of a find that promises to rewrite a major chapter in ancient Egyptian history, "We were really shocked."

Also covered on Discovery News, in less detail.

For those interested in the Darnell's other work see their page on the Yale Egyptological Institute.

Polish achievements in Egypt and the Sudan

Serwis Nauka w Polsce

In the beginning of this year several research projects had been completed. Dr Grzegorz Majcherek from the Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw, announced the completion of studies at a university complex from the 2nd half of 5th century and 6th century AD, located at the Kom el-Dikka site in Alexandria, Egypt. It is the only explored ancient university in the Mediterranean area. Excavations performed during recent seasons clarified the chronology of its operation and provided valuable information.

Also in Egypt, in Qurna near Luxor, the excavations in the area of the former Coptic hermitage located inside an ancient tomb are slowly coming to an end. In 2005 archaeologists led by Tomasz Górecki from the National Museum in Warsaw discovered two papyrus books bound in leather and parchment pages with fragments of the Old Testament Book of Isaiah. The researchers are processing gathered materials in preparation to the final publication. . . .

The turn of 2009/2010 saw the last research season in the vicinity of the 4th cataract in Sudan, under the great rescue operation prior to the flooding of large areas by the Nile waters piled up by the dam. Archaeologists from the Archaeological Museum in Poznań led by Dr Marek Chłodnicki examined the large late Meroic mound, very richly equipped, which is unusual for burials from this period – containing, for example, copper alloy vessels.

Security concerns close Nubian Museum for 2 weeks

Luxor Times

Van Gogh could never have imagined it.

Dr. Zahi Hawass announced that a specialised company was chosen to work on an intensive project to replace the surveillance cameras and security system including the alarms which are out of date and suffer of repetitive malfunctions since the museum opening in1997.

More re steps to improve security in Egyptian museums

ABC News

Egypt has pledged to implement strict measures to protect its cultural and archaeological riches after the theft of a Vincent Van Gogh masterpiece in broad daylight from an unguarded Cairo museum.

Antiquities supremo Zahi Hawass says alarm systems in museums across the country will be upgraded and linked to a central control room monitored by security forces.

"A central control room will be set up and will be electronically linked to all the surveillance rooms that exist in the museums," Mr Hawass, who heads Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, said in a statement.

Saturday's theft from Cairo's Mahmoud Khalil museum of the Dutch master's Poppy Flowers has left Egyptian authorities red-faced and struggling to fend off mounting criticism.

The government daily Al-Ahram newspaper reported on Monday that the museum's security system had been out of order since December 2006.

Displaying Hieroglyphs in WordPress & and plea for help with Aegyptus

News from the Valley of the Kings (Kate Phizackerley)

As regular readers will know Kate is developing hieroglyph plugins for WordPress. See her post above for the latest news, but also for a request for help with Aegyptus.

Book Review: Antony and Cleopatra

The National Interest

Antony and Cleopatra by Adrian Goldsworthy
(New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010)

CLEOPATRA VII—“the Female Horus,” “the Great One,” “the Mistress of Perfection,” “the New Isis,” “Father-Loving Goddess” (to give her at least some of her proper titles)—was Egypt’s queen. Cleopatra was not, however, an Egyptian, and she had no direct historical association with the Egypt of the pharaohs. In fact, she lived far closer in time to us than she did to the builders of the great pyramids. She was Greek, the last—as it turned out—of a line of monarchs descended from one of Alexander the Great’s most trusted generals, Ptolemy I, who after Alexander’s death moved to Babylon, invaded Egypt and appointed himself pharaoh in 305 BCE. The Ptolemies venerated Egyptian gods (many of whom, however, also existed in Greek mythology) and performed the religious rituals of the pharaohs who came before them. They also assumed pharaonic titles. But Cleopatra was the first of her dynasty to be able to speak Egyptian (and if Plutarch, the Greco-Roman biographer whose Life of Antony is almost the only source we have for the story of the two lovers, is to be believed, Mede, Ethiopian, Hebrew, Arabic, Parthian and “Troglodyte”—the language of the peoples of southern Egypt and northern Sudan—were part of her vast lexicon as well).

Still, as Adrian Goldsworthy tartly remarks in his latest offering on the fate of the Roman Empire, Cleopatra was “no more Egyptian culturally or ethnically than most residents of modern-day Arizona are Apaches.”

Developing Downtown Cairo for tourism

BBC News


The Downtown area of Cairo is an odd mixture of Colonial era architecture and modern bustle, buildings and rather a lot of architectural decay. This video looks at some of the problems and the proposed solutions.

A bit off topic, but it's a slow week for news.

Photo for Today - Mummy coffin

Mummy case of Tabes
Third Intermediate Period
No provenance

Here's the description on the website of the Museum of Fine Art, Boston.

Mummy case and mummy of Tabes
Egyptian, Third Intermediate Period, Dynasty 22, 945–712 B.C.

Length: 167 cm (65 3/4 in.)
Cartonnage, human remains

Classification: Tomb equipment

On view in the: Egyptian Funerary Arts Gallery

An innovation in funerary equipment in Dynasty 22 was the one-piece mummy case made of cartonnage. A core of mud and straw in the shape of a mummy was first covered with plaster. Layers of linen were then adhered to the plastered core with plant gum, leaving a hole at the foot end and a long narrow slit in the back. The surface was then coated with gesso, the core was removed through the slit in the back, and the wrapped mummy inserted in its place. The back was then sewn up, the foot end was plugged with a wooden board, and the sealed mummy case was delivered to painters to be decorated.

This cartonnage mummy case of Lady Tabes is one of the earliest of this type and one of the finest. Protective winged deities figure prominently in the decoration. No fewer than six pairs of wings wrap around Tabes's mummy. Two falcons - the first one ram-headed with up-curved wings, the second one bird-headed with wings spread out horizontally - stretch across her upper body. Below them, on the sides, are a pair of winged goddesses and a pair of falcons, their wings crisscrossing down the center of her lower body in a swirl of plumage. They are labeled Isis, Nephthys, Neith, and Selqet, the four traditional protective funerary goddesses.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Hay Collection—Gift of C. Granville Way, 1872
Accession number: 72.4820c

Provenance/Ownership History: By 1836: Robert Hay (1799-1863), Linplum, Scotland; 1863: by descent to his son Robert James Alexander Hay; 1868 (?): sold by Rollin and Feuardent, 27 Haymarket, London to Samuel A. Way, Boston; 1872: gift of his son C. Granville Way. (Accession date: June 28, 1872)
(Accession Date: June 28, 1872)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Middle Kingdom/2nd Intermediate settlement discovered at Umm Mawagir in Kharga Oasis

Press Release, with photos.

I think that "stumbled upon" is probably a little harsh!

The American-Egyptian mission from Yale University has stumbled upon what appears to be the remains of a substantial settlement. The city is a thousand years earlier than the major surviving ancient remains at the Umm Mawagir area in Kharga Oasis.

Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosny, announced that the settlement is dated to the Second Intermediate Period (ca.1650-1550 BC) and was discovered during excavation work as part of the Theban Desert Road Survey. This project serves to investigate and map the ancient desert routes in the Western desert.

Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said that the newly discovered settlement is 1km long from north to south and 250m wide from east to west. It lies along the bustling caravan routes connecting the Nile Valley of Egypt and the western oasis with points as far as Darfur in western Sudan. Hawass continued that archaeological evidence at the site indicated that its inhabitants were part of an administrative center and they were engaged in baking on a massive scale.

Dr. John Coleman Darnell, head of the Yale mission, said that during excavations remains of large administrative mudbrick structures were found. These buildings consisted of rooms and halls similar to administrative buildings previously found in several sites in the Nile Valley. These sites may have been used as a lookout post as part of the administrative center of the settlement. Part of an ancient bakery was also found with two ovens and a potter’s wheel, used to make the ceramic bread molds in which the bread was baked. The amount of remains from the debris dumps outside the bakery suggest that the settlement produced a food surplus and may have even been feeding an army.

Dr. Deborah Darnell, co-director of the mission, said that early studies on the site revealed that the settlement began during the Middle Kingdom (2134-1569 BC) and lasted to the beginning of the New Kingdom (1569-1081 BC). However the site was at its peak from the late Middle Kingdom (1786-1665 BC) to the Second Intermediate Period (1600-1569 BC).

Structure near Snefru's Bent Pyramid may be a harbour

Heritage Key (Owen Jarus)

With photos.

Archaeologists have discovered a large structure – to the northeast of the 4,600 year old Bent Pyramid – which may be the remains of an ancient harbour. It connects to one of the pyramid’s temples by way of a 140 meter long causeway.

The discoveries were made by a team from the Cairo department of the German Archaeological Institute, and the Free University of Berlin. The team used magnetic survey and drill cores soundings to make the finds. The structure is mostly unexcavated and only a portion of the causeway has been unearthed.

Jo's back! Minufiyeh starts again

EES Minufiyeh Survey

We are now fully settled into our first summer season of excavation up at Quesna. The first week was largely occupied with arranging accommodation, changing apartments and topping up on supplies and the work really started one week ago when we were joined once more by the local workforce from the villages around Quesna. We are living in Shibin el-Kom again, in the same area as in the spring season, and it has been good to meet some of our old friends again and we have already received a number of invitations for breaking the fast during Ramadan. We have excellent transport this season with a 4WD that allows us to fit in about 7 people and a number of large bags, a coolman (cool box) and the total station (and then a capacious roof rack!). It is a very solid vehicle and is very good on the sand as we approach the site every morning.

Eton’s Egyptology going to Birmingham (UK) and Baltimore (US)

The Art Newspaper (Martin Bailey)

Eton College’s Egyptian antiquities have just gone on show at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham as part of a 15-year loan. “Sacred and Profane: Treasures of Ancient Egypt” is a temporary exhibition of 80 of the finest pieces of the Myers collection, running until next January.

The collection was assembled by Major William Myers, who served in Egypt and bequeathed his antiquities to Eton in 1899.

Eton, Britain’s most exclusive independent school, located in Windsor, has been unable to display the objects in recent years. In an unusual arrangement, it is lending most of the 2,500 antiquities to two institutions, the Barber Institute (part of the University of Birming­ham) and the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, which will catalogue, scan, conserve and display them.

Interactive Tutankhamun DNA

National Geographic

Thanks to Ann Barrett for the link. Whether you believe in the results or not, this is still a rather good graphic representation of the DNA analysis in the family of Tutankhamun.

Genetic testing on 11 mummies revealed the remains of Tut’s parents, who were brother and sister. Tut’s father is very likely Akhenaten. The identity of his mother is still unknown. How do we know? Scientists collected DNA, then looked at eight sets of genetic markers (colored boxes in diagram below) to create a genetic fingerprint for each mummy. Shared markers help determine kinship.

Visit to Medamud

Luxor News (Jane Akshar)

Jane has wangled a visit to Medamud, lucky thing, and has posted photographs on her blog, above.

Egypt to Improve Museum Security After Van Gogh Theft

Bloomberg Businessweek (Alaa Shahine)

Egypt plans to set up a security control room to monitor all museums after the theft of a $55 million Vincent van Gogh painting in Cairo, Zahi Hawass, head of the country’s antiquities agency said today.

Culture Minister Faruq Hosni also has formed a committee to review security measures after the theft at the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum, Hawass said in an e-mailed statement.

The committee “aims to review all current measures used to secure works of art, as well as what is needed” to improve security, said Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council for Antiquities. The panel will work with the National Security Agency to train museum personnel, he said. . . . .

Only seven out of 43 security cameras were functioning and none of the alarms attached to the museum’s paintings was working, the public prosecutor told reporters on Aug. 22 at the museum after the theft had been discovered.

Photo for Today - Coffin footboard, MFA

Copyright Rick Menges, with my thanks

Coffin footboard
Painted wood
Provenance unlisted

Here's the description from the MFA website:

Coffin footboard
Egyptian, Greco-Roman Period, A.D. 50–100

Height x length: 46.6 x 63 cm (18 3/8 x 24 13/16 in.)
Painted wood

Classification: Tomb equipment

On view in the: Egyptian Funerary Arts Gallery

Footboard depicting the mummification of Osiris by Anubis. Two mourning women, representing Isis and Nephthys, stand at either end of Osiris. There is a vertical strip of hieroglyphic text in both upper corners; however, their meaning is not fully understood.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Egyptian Special Purchase Fund, 1979
Accession number: 1979.37

Provenance/Ownership History: December 14, 1979: New York sale, Sotheby Parke-Bernet, sold to MFA.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Canada returning smuggled artefact to Egypt

Today Egypt recovered a Greco-Roman bust from Canada. Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosny, announced that the bust had been illegally smuggled out of Egypt but that the Canadian authorities were giving their full cooperation to repatriate the artifact. Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said that the bust would be handed over to the Egyptian ambassador to Canada, Shamel Nasser, who will then send the bust back to its homeland of Egypt.

Hawass explained that the object is a 13 cm tall marble bust that has been stored at the Heritage Canada Foundation since Canadian Police confiscated it in 2007. Following several negotiations between Egypt and Canada, the bust is finally being returned. Ambassador Nasser said that the recovery of this bust highlights the strong friendship and cooperation between Egypt and Canada.

The National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

Al Ahram Weekly (Nevine El-Aref)

The scene as one steps into the 33-feddan site of the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) overlooking Ain Al-Sira Lake in the heart of Egypt's first Islamic Capital, Al-Fustat, is totally different from how it was only a year ago.

The NMEC's main building is nearing completion along with its galleries, corridors and various exhibition sections. Despite still showing some concrete underlay, the floors and staircases are encased in gray marble and the lighting and security systems are all installed.

To check on the progress of the latest construction and organising the work phases at the NMEC, the culture minister, Farouk Hosni, the project supervisor Farouk Abdel-Salam and Mohamed Abu Seiada, head of the Cultural Development Fund, embarked last Tuesday on a tour of the museum's various sections.

Plans to refurbish Egyptian galleries at the Ashmolean

Oxford Mail (Reg Little)

A £5M redevelopment is being planned at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum to showcase the museum’s world famous collections from ancient Egypt.

Only eight months after the new Ashmolean was opened by the Queen following a £61m extension scheme, the museum has submitted plans to refurbish its Egyptian galleries.

The work would focus on part of the ground floor in the original Ashmolean building in Beaumont Street which was largely untouched by the major expansion.

Al-Alamein archeological site to open for visitors

Egypt Daily News

The Marina Al-Alamein archeological site will open four visitors mid-September, the Supreme Council of Antiquities said in a statement Tuesday.

The archeological site is the largest in the north coast, stretching over 189 acres, the SCA said.

It hosts a display for Roman villas, baths, marketplaces, remains of a church, tombs, streets, a Roman theater and various statues, according to Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA).

The site will be open during the day and at night; the SCA said a “high-tech” light system has been installed.

In a bid to encourage local tourism, the entrance fee for the site will be LE 5 for Egyptians with a 50 percent discount for students, said Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, Head of the Central Administration of Lower Egypt.

Hawass stressed the significance of the site, citing the importance of the port during the Greco-Roman era.

CT scan peers inside Anniston mummy

The Anniston Star (Patrick McCreless)

With video.

Anniston Museum of Natural History employees anxiously sat in the CT imaging lobby at Regional Medical Center Wednesday evening –- as if waiting for a friend or relative in the examining room.

They’d certainly treated her as such, less than an hour earlier.

With the utmost care, they had lifted the patient from her resting place at the museum and carried her to a hearse, where she then received a police escort to the hospital.

After nearly 45 minutes without a word, the doors to the imaging room opened and the diagnosis was revealed.

Don Spaulding, museum curator of collections, was amazed at what he heard.

“What surprised me is she was very young,” Spaulding said. “Now I really want to know how she died.”

The patient in question was Tasherytpamenekh (pronounced Ta-SHER-eet-pa-MEN-eck), one of the museum’s two 2,000-year-old Egyptian mummies. The female mummy’s trip to RMC was a rare chance for experts to learn more about her and the ancient mummification process itself.

Hibis Temple, Kharga (Zahi Hawass)

Beginning in 1909, the Metropolitan Museum of Art was responsible for excavations at the Hibis temple. Their work resulted in three important volumes, which included translations of the inscriptions on the walls. After the Metropolitan Museum left the site, an Egyptian team continued to uncover and record buried parts of the temple until 1986.

The reason that I went for the first time to visit Kharga oasis was because the SCA decided that the Hibis temple had to be moved from its current location, because the soil composition of the land was very weak and the temple was in danger of collapse. Because of this, the SCA began to organize a salvage program that would move the temple to another location 2km away from the original site.

From the first time I visited the site I could see that if the temple was moved it would be destroyed. The reliefs and the stone blocks were badly restored in the past and were very fragile.

Graduates from the Qarun Lake Field School (Zahi Hawass)

It is always very good to hear of Egyptian students learning how to do archaeology in the field.

Pictured here are the latest group of archaeologists under employment in the SCA! They were trained at the prehistoric site of Qarun Lake, under the direction of Khaled Saad. This dig site is perhaps one of the best field schools in Egypt. The SCA fully funded this project so that they had living quarters, a kitchen, excavation tools, a photography studio, GIS labs and any other resources they needed for their excavation work. This group of archaeologists are just a few of over 1,500 that have been trained while I have been Secretary General of the SCA. I am extremely proud of their accomplishments and I am confident that they will continue to further the study of Egypt's cultural heritage well after I have retired. Congratulations, graduates!

The Museum of Islamic Art

Al Ahram Weekly (Zahi Hawass)

If anyone were to ever ask me the question, "What is the most difficult project that you have had to work on as the secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities?" I would have to answer, "The Islamic Museum." This is the story.

The Islamic Museum in Cairo, now on Port Said Street, was first opened in the Al-Hakim Mosque in 1881 with 111 objects on display. When I began my current job in 2002, the Port Said Street museum was closed and the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) intended this lovely neo-Mamluk building to be used to display Islamic art and a building in the Citadel to be used to display architectural objects. I thought that this division was counterintuitive. How would it be possible truly to distinguish between art and architecture? The two complement each other. I decided that the existing museum should continue to display both and that we should find an alternative use for the building in the Citadel.

Sad News: Dr John Alexander

McDonald Institute

Fellows and Members will be saddened to hear of the death, on Monday 16th August, of Dr John Alexander, aged 88. Previously a student at Pembroke College, he had been a Fellow of St John's College since 1976 and was a former Lecturer in Iron Age Archaeology in the Department of Archaeology.

During his time in the Department and after retirement, he continued to pursue both European and African archaeology, undertaking rescue archaeology within Cambridgeshire and neighbouring counties, and later being Director of the Egypt Exploration Society excavations at Qasr Ibrim, in Egyptian Nubia.

He was involved in the founding of ‘Rescue’ and served for many years on the councils of the Prehistoric Society, the Council for British Archaeology, and the Sudan Archaeological Research Society, being Vice-President of the former two institutions, and Vice-Chairman of the latter. In addition he was a Council member of the Egypt Exploration Society and the British Institute in Eastern Africa, founding editor of the Cambridge Monographs in African Archaeology and President of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society.

Exhibition: Coins through the Ages (Zahi Hawass)

The Egyptian Museum, Cairo opened a new temporary exhibit entitled: Coins Through the Ages on August 10. Over the past eight years the Egyptian Museum has hosted a series of temporary exhibitions, the most recent of which focused on five artifacts which were repatriated to Egypt. The temporary exhibition space (Hall 44) has also hosted a series of exhibits on excavations under the direction of foreign teams. This includes teams from America, France, Poland and the Netherlands. This exhibition was curated by Sayed Hassan, who did an excellent job and will be working with the new Egyptian Museum in Rome. I'm including here the text from the brochure that will be handed out during the exhibit:

Before the invention of money, people bartered their surplus crops and cattle amongst themselves to obtain necessary commodities. The invention of coins provided the means to transition from a barter system to a monetary system. Metal coins are divisible, variable in form, convenient for trade with foreign markets and can be saved for use at a later time.

Showcasing the ancient world at John Hoskins

JHU Gazette (Greg Rienzi)

In the past, visitors to Homewood’s Gilman Hall might have strolled by Sanchita Balachandran and wondered what she did. She’d have been the one wearing the respirator and purple rubber gloves, likely on her way to conserve an Egyptian mummy in a nondescript, dimly lit room on the first floor of the building.

Balachandran, the mummy and the rest of the objects in the university’s archaeological collection are now poised to come out into the light—customized fiber-optic ones at that—and receive much greater visibility.

In July, Balachandran, an objects conservator by training, was named curator of the new Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum, a glass-dominated 1,600-square-foot space located directly below Gilman Hall’s new atrium courtyard. The museum, designed by Kliment Halsband Architects with conservation-grade display cases and cabinets crafted by noted local firm Helmut Guenschel, is intended for the exhibition and study of the university’s archaeological artifacts.

Betsy M. Bryan, the Alexander Badawy Professor of Egyptian Art and Archaeology and director of the Archaeological Museum, said that Balachandran’s appointment brings to fruition the labors of faculty from a number of departments who worked with the architects to create a truly state-of-the-art museum space.

Cleopatra exhibition - questions about its US schedule

I have received a number of queries by email and a few comments on posts about where the Cleopatra exhibition is scheduled to visit next.

I have been keeping an eye on the websites which will have this information when it becomes available but there is simply nothing available at present.

As soon as I find out I will post the information here.

Sorry not to have more news!

Rochester (U.S.) gallery puts Egyptian items on display

The Daily News Online

Two new galleries showcasing the Memorial Art Gallery's ancient art collections opened in late 2009 as part of a renovation and reinstallation of the museum's second-floor galleries.

The changes were made possible by one of the largest gifts in Gallery history — a $1 million donation from long-time MAG friend and supporter Helen H. Berkeley.

The Helen H. Berkeley Gallery of Ancient Art brings together works from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, including objects never before on view.

Among its highlights are two of the most important acquisitions of recent years — the rare pair of 4th century Egyptian coffins that were in MAG’s Gill Discovery Center.

Photo for Today - Naqada I and II artefacts, MFA

Copyright Rick Menges, with my thanks

Including a wonderful footed bowl, a fish-tailed knife
a bowl in the form of a bird,
a tall-footed black vase with handles
and a fabulous ripple-flaked knife.

All links will take you to descriptions on the MFA website.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Does history suffer when cultural artefacts are returned?

There's no blog today because I am off AGAIN to the dentist, hopefully for the last time at least where this one wretched tooth is concerned. Instead here is an article sent to me by Dr Kwame Opoku who has written many articles regarding repatriation, challenging the views held by James Cuno and similar thinkers. The article was sent to me yesterday, 16th August 2010. It is a response to Michael Kaput's article in Egypt Today, entitled Whose Heritage? Both articles have excellent points to make.

Does history suffer when cultural artefacts are returned?

Dr Kwame Opoku

This is a question that may surprise many and indeed many may consider it wiser to leave unanswered rather than hazard untenable answers. Michael Kaput has some views on this issue which he expresses in an article entitled, “Whose Heritage? Repatriating ancient treasures seems like a noble cause, but history might end up the loser.” The article has been reproduced in Elginism, a leading website devoted to the question of restitution, especially, the restitution of the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles. (1)

Kaput does not give us any definition of history. If we take history as record of events and developments within a time framework, it becomes difficult to see why the return of the bust of Nefertiti from Berlin to Cairo should be a loss to history. Did history suffer when the Egyptian queen was moved from Egypt to Germany? Or does history only suffer when artefacts are returned from their present locations in the West to their countries of origin?

Following the well-known thesis of James Cuno and co, Kaput argues that the present contending States did not exist when the artefacts were made and transferred:

“The war over antiquities is waged between modern nation states, which didn’t exist at the times the artifacts were created or removed. Many of the artifacts in question were taken across the borders of defunct political bodies, Ottoman-administered Egypt in the case of the Rosetta Stone, and Ottoman-administered Greece in the case of the Elgin Marbles. Though cases can be made for their return, it is logically and legally impossible to hold modern-day states accountable for the actions of past governments, regimes and empires.”

This argument has hitherto been advanced by the retentionists to deprive a claimant such as Egypt of her right to the bust of Nefertiti or to the Rosetta Stone. Kaput seems to be extending this contention to include an argument that the present holding States had not been in existence at the time of the alleged illegitimate transfers. Although he does not expressly say so, he seems to be implicitly extending the notion also to Great Britain and France by declaring that “Though cases can be made for their return, it is logically and legally impossible to hold modern-day states accountable for the actions of past governments, regimes and empires.” This can only mean that the holding States did not exist at the time of transfer. At this point, we may start wondering whether he is really aware of what he is saying since Britain, and France did exist at the time the disputed objects were removed. Whilst Cuno and co limited their questioning of the existence of present States at the time of production or removal to claiming States, Kaput extends the argument to holding States.

As for modern States not being accountable for actions of past governments, regimes and empires, one may remind Kaput that there is such a notion as State succession. He surely must be aware that the present German State and government have assumed certain obligations deriving from the nefarious activities of the evil Nazis and that the boundaries of many States are based on agreements made by previous States and governments. Without some kind of succession to both the good and bad deeds of previous States, life in present States would be impossible.

Kaput buys completely Cuno’s idea that present-day Egyptians have no connections with ancient Egyptians:

“It is difficult to make the case that the artifacts of ancient Egypt were made by people bearing strong similarities to citizens of the modern-day Arab Republic of Egypt, just as it would be difficult for Greek PM Papindreou to say he has a tangible link to the lineage of Socrates. Though geography and cultural identity count for much personally, they are not consistent, logical or legal foundations for creating effective mechanisms to govern the return of antiquities”.

We have already answered elsewhere the basic argument presented by Cuno on the alleged lack of continuity or links between ancient Egypt and present-day Egypt. If the criteria set up by Cuno were applied to present-day France, Germany, Britain, and the United States, none of them would be able to hold artefacts found in their territories.(2)

It is difficult to believe that Kaput expects to see strong physical similarities between present day Egyptians and ancient Egyptians before he could believe that those who made the disputed artefacts are in anyway related to present-day Egyptians. Kaput must be well-versed in Physical Anthropology to go through thousands of years of human evolution and development to establish or deny similarities or continuities between peoples of different epochs. He declares that there is no tangible link between a Greek Prime Minister and Socrates. We have never heard the Greeks base their claim to the restitution of the Parthenon Marbles on such an absurd ground as the physical similarities between their leaders and the ancient Greek philosophers. If we apply such a test to the French, Germans, the British and the Americans, we would obtain hilarious results that would make us forget altogether the issue of restitution. No doubt Kaput has not thought of this because, like most retentionists, he is only concerned with the motivations and qualifications of those demanding the return of their artefacts and not with those holding on to them.

Michael Kaput appears to be more courageous than most of those writing on restitution issues. He boldly declares geography and cultural identity as less important for the determination of the issues involved: “they are not consistent, logical or legal foundations for creating effective mechanisms to govern the return of antiquities.” The archaeologists who have hitherto taught us that the location and context of artefacts are of crucial importance will no doubt look at Kaput’s thesis.

The author returns to his source of inspiration and declares:

“These larger issues are precisely the ones people like James Cuno, director of the Art Institute of Chicago, see as the overriding concern in the political debate over antiquities. Cuno’s book Who Owns Antiquity? and his subsequent lectures on the subject of antiquities argue for a global culture of antiquities exchange, in which scholars refuse to cave to the pressure of leaders and governments seeking to acquire antiquities for their own national promotion. “It is in the nature of our species to connect and exchange.”

Kaput mentions “a global culture of antiquities exchange” but does not give any concrete examples. We are not aware of any global exchange of antiquities apart from the one way traffic of antiquities going from some countries such as Egypt, Greece, Nigeria, Peru, and Mexico to Britain, France, Germany and the United States. There are still the outstanding issues regarding the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles, Rosetta Stone, the bust of Nefertiti, the Benin bronzes, and the Zodiac in the Louvre which perhaps are viewed by others as part of “global exchange” even though the history of the illegitimate transfers can by no means be considered as “exchange”. What did the claiming countries receive in “exchange”? In many cases, the brutality of the acquisition methods used: invasion, looting, oppression and massive violations of human rights by the colonialists clearly rules out the use of a euphemism such as “exchange”. Would anyone dare classify the forcible transfer of the Benin bronzes to Great Britain, after invasion, massacres and burning of Benin City in 1897 as “exchange”? Would the British invasion of Ethiopia in 1868 and the looting of the treasures of Magdala be perhaps a form of exchange? It is true that some, against their better judgement and in post facto mitigation of the British attack on Benin, have tried to argue that the invasion and the subsequent spread of Benin art in the Western world at least led to a better appreciation of African art. In view of the massive loss of lives and the destruction of material wealth in Benin, a kingdom that did not share any territorial border with Great Britain but made the “mistake” of resisting British hegemonial ambitions in the West African coast, can one accept such an assessment as justification for murder and plunder?

Following his master’s voice Kaput, refers to “scholars refuse to cave to the pressure of leaders and governments seeking to acquire antiquities for their own national promotion”. We do not know which scholars he is referring to and from which States. Nor are we aware of any scholars acquiring antiquities “for their own national promotion.”

The rather weak argument of Cuno that legislation against illegal trafficking in antiquities only encourages the illegal market is swallowed whole by Kaput who also accepts the unfounded notion that such legislation is used to bolster national identity. That States are required by various conventions, including the 1970 UNESCO Convention, to enact national legislation for the implementation of treaties may perhaps surprise some. That the illegal trade in antiquities is fuelled by the insatiable desire of Western museums to acquire as many artefacts as possible and by all means seems to escape some writers.

Kaput, like many retentionists, makes generalizations about our “common heritage”, ”global culture” etc and seems to support the view that those who resist the hegemony of the dominant powers could only be nationalists that “degrade the ideals behind preserving humanity’s past”. He hardly pauses to consider the reasons for resisting imperialist hegemony and that the real betrayal of humanist ideals are by those who have always been prepared to resort to the use of violence to achieve their aims. To turn the victims of oppression and domination into destroyers of humanist ideals because they ask for the return of cultural objects wrenched, often with violence and intimidation from their locations, is a cynical way of thinking which only serves the entrenched interests of former colonialists and their supporters.

Retentionists and their supporters have a remarkable way of placing the burden of proof of their arguments on the shoulders of their opponents and diverting attention to aspects of a general problem that end up by obscuring the main concern.

An assertion is made or insinuated that repatriation of cultural artefacts to their country of origin may cause loss to history but no evidence or example is provided. It is left to opponents of the assertion to supply examples and evidence that the contrary is true, i.e. that restitution does not contribute to losses for history. Attention is thus diverted from the serious question of preventing looting to a false problem of potential dangers of restitution. Devoting more attention to a non-existing problem reduces concentration on real problems. There is no evidence of abundant willingness or readiness on the part of States holding cultural objects of others to return them. There is therefore no need to worry unnecessarily about the dangers of restitution. Most scholars would say that the real danger now is the loss of knowledge through looting of artefacts encouraged by museums and collectors that purchase objects without asking questions about their provenance. There is ample evidence of the dangers of looting and the matter is discussed on daily basis by scholars. (3)

Kaput adopts the usual retentionist tactic of attributing to the absence of adequate law, the lack of willingness to repatriate cultural artefacts:

“The key UNESCO convention on the issue — the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property — was enacted in 1970. But it has no legal weight, and applies only to antiquities removed from countries after 1970.

The lack of international legal tools that can be used to reclaim antiquities is part of the problem for source countries, leading to high-profile repatriation campaigns such as the one led by Hawass”

The impression is given that there have not been restitutions of artefacts because of the inadequacies of the law and that in the absence of appropriate legal provisions, there can be no restitution. This is a remarkable argument when we consider that it usually comes from those countries that have looted/stolen the cultural artefacts of others. None of the laws applicable in the societies and States from which the cultural artefacts were looted or stolen approved of such acts. It is like the thief who on being requested to return stolen property, retorts that this cannot be done because there is no law covering the situation. When the artefacts were looted nobody seemed overly concerned about laws. The UNESCO Convention (Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, 1970) which is said to have no “legal weight” is an instrument the international community has provided for itself. Its weaknesses and strengths are a reflection on the balance of power in the concert of nations or what Kaput describes as “political footballs.” Unlike football matches, international relations are games in which the players often make the rules as they go along and there are no yellow or red cards to be distributed for fouls. Penalties are not awarded against brutal violators of the rules. Unlike football, many innocent persons uninvolved in the game die as a result of violations of International Law rules.

The history of the adoption of the 1970 Convention clearly indicates the strong opposition of the holding States to any provisions that might deprive them of any of the artefacts looted/stolen during the colonial period. It took many States some thirty years to ratify the convention with extensive reservations. A look at the list of ratitications of the 1970 UNESCO Convention offers interesting information for assessing the postures of various States, including States that stand to benefit from the convention but have so far not done so.

Neither the 1970 convention nor any other legal instrument forbids States from returning stolen/looted cultural artefacts to their countries of origin. Indeed Article 15 of the 1970 Convention expressly authorizes States to enter into negotiations about artefacts transferred before 1970:

“Nothing in this Convention shall prevent State Parties thereto from concluding special agreements among themselves or from continuing to implement agreements already concluded regarding the restitution of cultural property removed, whatever the reason, from its territory of origin, before the entry into force of this Convention for the States concerned.”

Several UNESCO and United Nations resolutions as well as conferences have urged holding States to return cultural artefacts. The ICOM (International Council of Museums) Code of Ethics has urged museums to enter into negotiations with countries of origin. Clearly, if the Western States are not willing to return artefacts, this is not due to the absence of adequate laws but to the lack of political will aided and abetted by the lack of consciousness that it is morally and legally wrong to hold on to looted/stolen property. Many in the West, especially in the museum world, seem to think any means for obtaining cultural artefacts is acceptable. That they are depriving others of their cultural icons and human rights does not seem to bother them. Indeed, there are scholars who insist on the right and duty of Western museums to detain cultural artefacts of others.

The various restitutions made recently to Egypt, Italy, Greece and to Ethiopia have not shown any loss or suffering by history. No doubt some Western museums may lose in specific situations of restitutions, especially where the disputed artefacts are their greatest attractions. But can this be a respectable argument for not correcting past wrong doings and injustice to the countries of origin of the artefacts? Are the interests and sentiments of the peoples of those countries not important? We recall the joys and hopes of the peoples of the countries of origin whenever their cultural objects are returned. The return of the Axum Obelisk by Italy to Ethiopia was met with prayers, songs and dances raising hopes that finally those treasures looted by the British at Maqdala in 1868 may eventually be returned. Archaeology, a publication of the Archaeology Institute of America reported that:

In the weeks before the stele's arrival, euphoria seized much of the nation. Parading school children, chanting priests, and dancing Axumites were broadcast daily on Ethiopian television. Even the foreign press reveled in the nation's proud homecoming party.” (4)

It is not difficult to imagine the joy and satisfaction of the people of Benin, Nigeria and Africa if the British Museum and the other Western museums were to return some of the Benin bronzes, especially the bust of Queen-Mother Idia which has become a pan-African symbol. But do these Western States and museums really care for the sentiments and aspirations of the African peoples? The Benin Royal Family and the Nigerian Government have asked several times for the return of some of the Benin bronzes only to be met with dead silence or disdain. The Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum, Chicago, do not even bother to acknowledge receipt of letters from the Royal Family.

Those Western museums and Governments that are busy proclaiming their wishes to celebrate with Nigeria and other African States the 50th anniversary of African Independence could follow their words with concrete actions by sending some African artefacts back to their countries of origin. They would create tremendous joy for the African peoples whose artefacts, thousands in numbers, are lying in the depots of the Western museums which have no use for them and have space problems. Where then is the alleged humanity of the Westerners who never tire of proclaiming our “common humanity” and “our common heritage”? They do not seem worried by their perpetual and constant violations of the human rights of the African peoples to cultural development by withholding their cultural icons. How can one detain for decades the cultural icons of others and wish them progress and development? How can they even pretend to celebrate with us when they deny us our cultural objects that define and establish our identity and portray our conceptions of the world and human existence? How would the Western States like their cultural icons to be detained for decades, for example, by the Chinese?

The arguments presented by Kaput indicate a refusal to recognize the dynamic history of international relationships and to support the development of equitable cultural relations. But the world is changing, with or without the consent of the mighty ones and their supporters or those who have internalized standing colonial positions. Forces of change are increasing daily and the return of cultural artefacts is on the agenda. Kaput may lament that “When artefacts are used as political footballs, history gets sidelined.” What he calls “political footballs” are the dynamics of the changing relationships that are moving towards the correction or balancing of the asymmetric relationship.(5) Tullio Scovassi has correctly described this dynamic development, with respect to the return of the Axum obelisk, as follows: “The story of the belated restitution of the Axum obelisk is an outstanding example of the progressive development of principles of international law relating to the non-impoverishment of the cultural heritage of other countries, to the integrity of cultural sites and to the non-exploitation of the situation of countries subject to colonial rule”. (6)

There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that history suffers any loss as a result of restitution. It is the people deprived of their cultural and religious artefacts that suffer. In any case, there is not at present a super-abundance of willingness on the part of those holding disputed artefacts of others to return them and so the fear of dangers of restitution is a fiction of the imagination of some writers. The urgent task now is for Great Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and others to return some of the artefacts removed during the colonial days from Africa, Asia and Latin America; they should also contribute to reducing further looting of artefacts which thrives mainly because of the lucrative market for such items in the West.(7)

Kwame Opoku.


The article was first published at and has been mentioned in Egyptology News

Ethiopian Review

Lawyers Committee For Cultural Heritage Preservation

3. See for example, Looting Matters Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues, paul-barford.blogspot.comIllicit Cultural Property

4. Special Report: The Axum Obelisk Returns, but Some Still Grumble See also YouTube - Ethiopia: The Re-erection of Axum Obelisk; song by wedi romit Opoku, “The Return of the Obelisk to Ethiopia: A Victory for Ethiopia, Italy and the Rule of Law”,

5. K. Opoku, “Reflections on the Cairo Conference on Restitution: an Encouraging Beginning”,

6. The return of the Axum Obelisk


7. An excellent introduction to the looting issue is, Colin Renfrew, Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership: The Ethical Crisis in Archaeology, Duckworth and Co, London, 2000. Readers will also find it worthwhile to read James A. R. Nazfiger and Ann M. Nicgorski (Eds.), Cultural Heritage Issues: The Legacy of Conquest, Colonization, and Commerce, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Leiden, 2009.