Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Don’t sell the statue

The fate of the 4,500-year-old Sekhemka statue remains vague. Nevine El-Aref reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

After the expiration of the UK export ban on the Sekhemka statue, on Friday, which enabled the Northampton Borough Museum to continue the statue’s sale procedures, the Save Sekhemka Action Group started legal procedures to keep the statue in public display at a UK museum.

A British archaeologist, who required anonymity, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the sale procedures to hand over the statue to its anonymous buyer are set to start “very soon”.

He said that British Egyptologists believe there is no need to buy the statue as the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport wishes that the ban be extended if a UK buyer makes a serious bid.

“Paying a large amount of money, it seems unlikely that any public body will want to be seen as rewarding Northampton Borough Council by being involved in the purchase of the statue,” he said, adding that in addition, British museums have a large number of antiquities from the same era as the Sekhemka statue, making its purchase not worth its while.

Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Al-Damati described the sale of Sekhemka as “a historically indecent crime”, and called on Egyptian businessmen and wealthy antiquities lovers to help in collecting the required money to re-purchase the statue and return it to its homeland. Al-Damati also announced that the ministry had stopped all archeological cooperation and relations with Northampton Museum, which sold the statue last year to make up for its lack of funds.

In a statement published on The Save Sekhemka Action Group website, the group described the sale of the statue to an anonymous buyer and moving it to an unknown place as “a deprivation of knowledge of the ancient Egyptian civilisation”.

The group also urged British authorities to negotiate with the buyer to put the statue on loan to a British museum or give it as a gift which can look after it until it finds a secure home in an Egyptian museum.

According to Nasri Marco, president of the Court of Arbitration in Egypt and an international lawyer, a decree by the sultan of Egypt in 800AD prohibits the export of any artefact without written permission. There is no mention of Sekhemka in the records of the Egyptian Museum or in any other documents. “By default it was illegally taken out of the country,” Marco said, pointing out that the group is expecting a judgement for restitution of the statue to Egypt, or to keep the statue in the UK until further notice.

Al-Damati asserted to the Weekly that no such decree existed but if so, it would be “a very important document that could absolutely return the statue back to its homeland”. He also called on all authorities concerned, bodies and antiquity lovers to produce such a decree if they have it. He said he would look for the relevant papers in the collection of Egypt’s National Library and Archive.

The statue was sold by Northampton Borough Council, which runs Northampton Museum, and Lord Northampton for £15.8 million at auction last year, breaching the museum’s Association’s Code of Ethics, which led it to being barred from the association and losing its accreditation with Arts Council England.

The council’s subsequent bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for £240,000 was turned down on the grounds that the fund was only open to museums with accreditation. Northampton Council told the BBC that any action was a matter for the current owner and the two governments.

The sale of Sekhemka should compel Egyptian Egyptologists to be wary of other ancient Egyptian artefacts exhibited at Northampton Museum.

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