Antiquities and Archaeology News Market Egypt

Egypt’s government cracks down on illicit sales

The country’s antiquities ministry has its eyes peeled as looted objects appear in foreign markets

This ancient Egyptian wooden coffin lids, cut in half into suitcase-sized pieces, was seized by Israeli authorities in a shop in Jerusalem. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority

Organised gangs have looted sites across the country, due to a lack of security following Egypt’s January 2011 revolution, and have exported artefacts to foreign buyers. In recent months, the government has cracked down on illicit sales as the objects come to market.

In March, for example, two ancient Egyptian wooden coffin lids, each cut in half into suitcase-sized pieces, were seized by Israeli authorities in a shop in Jerusalem; it is thought that the lids were smuggled out of Egypt to Dubai, and then brought to Europe before entering Israel.

More recently, Bonhams London received eight wooden Islamic reliefs, engraved with Quranic verses, for validation early this month. After investigating their background, however, and after consulting with external experts, the auction house staff came to doubt the associated provenance data and approached the police. It is believed that the reliefs were stolen in April from the 13th-century dome of the Mausoleum of the Abbasid Caliphs in historic Cairo.

Though the Egyptian authorities have reportedly uncovered further instances of illegal antiquities dealing, some of the cases proved to be unfounded.

In September, according to Ahram Online, Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked the Israeli Antiquities Authority to halt the sale of 126 Egyptian artefacts in Jerusalem; of these objects, 110 were on sale at Baidun Galleries, while 16 were in the Aweidah Gallery. In an email, however, Alan Baidun says that proof of legal ownership and provenance was provided to both the Egyptian and Israeli antiquities authorities and that no sale has been halted. The Aweidah Gallery could not be reached for comment.

This month, Bonhams planned to auction a set of 165 Egyptian artefacts. According to the website Egypt Independent, Mohamed Ibrahim, Egypt’s head of antiquities, requested documentation from the auction house to prove that the artefacts had left Egypt legally. Bonhams spokesman Julian Roup, however, says that that the firm received no official request from the police, the Egyptian embassy or Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, and that the provenance in all cases was sound. The sale went ahead as planned on 22 October.

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