Saturday, February 18, 2006

A trade older than the pyramids

A fascinating and revealing paper, written by Geoffrey Tassie of the Egyptian Cultural Heritage Organization (ECHO). I have published the entire paper on the above web page, and it will soon be added to the ECHO website. Here's a summary with extracts.

The paper looks at one of the world's oldest trades - the theft of heritage and artefacts in Egypt. It starts with the robbing of tombs in antiquity: "So serious was tomb-robbing considered in Dynasty XX and XXI that many other papyri record the statements of convicted robbers."

Tass then takes us on a tour of historical theft and smuggling: "Egypt’s royalty lay relatively undisturbed for many thousands of years, with only the odd Luxor West Bank villager, particularly those from Qurna, using the mummy wrappings, old furniture and papyri as good burning material for their cooking fires. However, with the influx of Western tourists after the Napoleonic Expedition, the local West Bank villagers, many of whom actually lived in the tombs, found that they could make a small fortune by selling items from the tombs that they lived among. The trade in antiquities soon caught on, with every visitor wanting a souvenir of their visit." He goes on to explain the role of the notorious Abd el-Rassul family.

Bringing us up to date, the paper looks at some of the more recent issues regarding this subject, including the vexed subject of the St Louis Mask, the SCA's laudible and pivotal attempts to resolve the situation, and the role of organizations like ECHO in helping to investigate in an impartial way: "Hawass’ attentions are now focused on the St. Louis Art Museum and the repatriation of the Mask of Kanefernefer. . . . ECHO has been very proactive in following the rights of legal ownership of the mask of Kanefernefer, and in co-operation with Dr. Zahi Hawass (Secretary General of the SCA), Dr. Hany Hanna (Elected Chair, ICOM and General Director, Department of Conservation, SCA), and a legal representative in the USA are now convinced that there is a legal case for the Egyptian Government to pursue."

This informative paper raises important issues. See the URL at the top of the page to read the entire article.

Thanks to Tass for permission to publish the entire paper, and to post extracts from the paper here.

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