Monday, May 04, 2009

CLARIFICATION - Myers Museum collection


Many thanks to Dr Nick Reeves for sending me the following clarification re the Myers Collection:

Dear Andie

May I provide you and your readers with an accurate statement concerning the return to Egypt of antiquities recently facilitated by the Myers Museum at Eton College? Certain areas of the press seem to have badly misrepresented the situation, even making it appear as if Eton College might somehow be in the wrong in this matter. Here are the facts.

First of all, the Myers Museum at Eton College. The Myers possesses one of the United Kingdom’s oldest collections of Egyptian antiquities, its principal holdings having been bequeathed to Eton by Major William Joseph Myers in 1899. Clearly these are not the antiquities under discussion.

Although the Myers Museum today is a “closed” collection, in the sense that it does not actively seek to acquire, in 2006 it was offered as a gift by the family of a London-based Egyptology enthusiast, the late Ron Davey, an assemblage of photographs, slides and other useful study documentation. This documentation the Myers Museum was=2 0very happy to accept. Along with the Davey photographs, however, came a collection of minor Egyptian antiquities - the bulk of it shabti-figures and material “samples” such as linen, potsherds etc. This archive and collection had been bequeathed to Mr Davey around 1992 by his friend and fellow Egyptology enthusiast, the late Peter Webb.

On examining the Webb-Davey antiquities when they arrived at Eton, I was concerned to discover that a high proportion had demonstrably been acquired in Egypt during the period 1972-1988 – that is, after the 1970 UNESCO convention which ended the export of antiquities from Egypt. I searched very carefully through the Webb-Davey documentation, but was unable to discover any proof that permission had ever been granted by Egypt for an official export of these items. The full background of the remainder of the pieces in the Webb-Davey collection was unclear, but they had seemingly been purchased by Mr Webb or Mr Davey in good faith on the London antiquities market during and after this same period.

The Myers Museum and Eton College voluntarily raised the matter of the proffered Webb -Davey gift with Dr Zahi Hawass and Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities on 25 September 2008. The recommendation I made to Dr Hawass at that time was as follows: that (1) since a proportion of the Webb-Davey objects had demonstrably been acquired after the 1970 UNESCO watershed, and (2) since the pre-UNESCO status of the remainder of this collection was unclear, then the best and most honorable course was for the Webb-Davey antiquities to be declined by Eton College and returned to Egypt in their entirety. Mr Davey’s family, with whom Eton College consulted, was fully in accord with this decision.

This is the offer which, with both Eton’s and Egypt’s happy agreement, was actioned on Monday, 27 April, 2009.

I trust that this clarifies the situation.

With thanks, and all good wishes

Nick Reeves


Timothy Reid said...

Hi Andie

This clarification by Nicholas Reeves hopefully has settled this misunderstanding clearly the Myers museum at Eton has done what is correct as would be expected from an institution of its standing.

I cannot help but read into this however that many if not all the objects have little to no value to the Egyptian government and will likely remain unpacked in some storage facility.

My issue is not with the correct actions of the Myers museum or any other institution in doing what is right but rather laws which take trivial objects and criminalizes the ownership of such.

It is one thing to see antiquities in books or museums but quite another thrill to own and appreciate them.

It is true that important objects representative of a peoples pride and achievement belong in museums but that much of what has been created in history would be better appreciated in the hands of the common people, as it is Mr Webb and Davey have left a legacy of dubious nature and a hundred years earlier and Eton would not have a collection of antiquities.

In the end prohibition does not work and objects forgotten in drawers do not teach.

Anonymous said...

Just to say I was a no Egytologist friend of Mr Webb and Mr Davey and I doubt very much if they knowingly aquired anything illegally. They did spend a significant amount of time and money purchaseing items from the shops around the British Museum and also were sometimes in reciept of gifts from fellow Eqyptologists.