Saturday, December 27, 2008

The return of Amenhotep III

Al Ahram Weekly

EGYPTIAN archaeologists were in high spirits this week as a greywacke head of the 18th Dynasty King Amenhotep III was returned to Egypt after two decades of being shunted back and forth between Switzerland, Britain and the US, reports Nevine El-Aref.

The distinctive features, with full cheeks, wide, raised and slightly arched eyebrows above elongated but sharply edged narrow eyes, are a supreme example of the sculptural style that dominated King Amenhotep III's reign. Originally part of a larger statue of Amenhotep III, the head is thought to have been made in the studios located within the Ptah Temple enclosure at Memphis, near the Saqqara necropolis.

The story of the theft of the head dates back to 1992, when antiquities restorer Jonathan Tokeley-Parry began stealing Pharaonic objects and smuggling them out of Egypt. He succeeded in pilfering 35 items from the tomb of Heteb-Ka in Saqqara, 10 kilometres south of Giza, smuggling them through customs by hiding each under a layer of plaster, which he then painted in a crude fashion so that they resembled replicas produced by the Egyptian Documentation Centre.

In 1994, while trying to sell 24 papyrus texts, Tokeley-Parry was asked to produce a provenance for the items by an antiquities trader. The scam was revealed when his assistant took the papyri to the British Museum and the curator recognised them as part of a collection discovered in 1966 by a British mission excavating in the animal necropolis of north Saqqara.

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