From home to home
reveals how 200 genuine objects from the ancient Egyptian era to modern times held in a bank vault for decades were handed over to the Supreme Council of Antiquities
Early this week, in a scene which could have been taken from The Da Vinci Code, the Ahly National Bank of Egypt (ANBE) handed over to the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) 200 artefacts that had been deposited there since early in the 20th century.
This collection includes pieces from the ancient Egyptian, Graeco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic eras. Among them are limestone statuary heads of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman deities such as Horus, Hathor and Ptah, as well as Roman terracotta figurines and 20 Islamic and modern coins, including gold coins.
Hussein Bassir, head of the legal and technical committee that checked the authenticity of the objects, says the most significant item in the collection was the diary of an Armenian man called Oying Alexanian which contained the names and telephone numbers of antiquities dealers of the time, as well as the number of antiquities sale contracts. "These two things gave us a vision of how the antiquities trade in Egypt was rum at the time, especially that antiquities trading was legal," Abdel-Bassir said.
The story of how these artefacts came to light began several years ago when an Armenian antiquities dealer and a British collector, who both lived in Cairo during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, rented two vaults at the ANBE to store some of their antiquities collection. The rental for the vaults was paid for several years, but eventually payments ceased and no one came forward to inquire about the vault contents.
After receiving no information or rent for two years the ANBE opened the vaults and, in compliance with Egyptian law, confiscated its contents. Also according to the law, these remained in the bank's care for 15 years in case someone came back to claim them.
This brings us to early this year, when the ANBE's executive board carried out an inventory of the bank's special and long- term possessions. No one knew exactly what was inside the two vaults as the contents were the private deposits of the two foreigners. The ANBE chairman, Tarek Amer, personally contacted Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the SCA, who sent a team of lawyers and archaeologists to inspect the authenticity of the items. When the SCA team confirmed their authenticity, the ANBE offered the collection to the SCA as part of Egypt's tangible heritage. These objects are now being restored at the Egyptian Museum before being placed on special display at the museum next month.
Over the last seven years, and within Egypt's commitment to preserving its heritage, more than 10,000 stolen and illegally- smuggled artefacts have been returned from abroad to the SCA. The most recent were 19 objects from the tomb of Tutankhamun formerly in the private collections of Howard Carter and Lord Caernarvon, which were offered by the Metropolitan Museum in New York.