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Atif Abou el Dahab returns items from New York Metropolitan Museum of Art

US returns precious ancient artifacts to Egypt

Hazel Heyer, special to eTN  Jul 30, 2011

Dr. Mohamed Abdel Maksoud, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, said that Atif Abou el Dahab, the Deputy Head of the Phoranic Sector, is coming from the United States with 19 ancient Egyptian objects that have been in the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection since the early 20th century.  All of these small-scale objects, which range from study samples to a three-quarter-inch-high bronze dog and a sphinx bracelet-element attributed to Tutankhamun’s tomb, which was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922 in the Valley of the Kings.

On November 10, 2010, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Supreme Council of Antiquities signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the return of those objects.

At the time that Howard Carter and his sponsor, the Earl of Carnarvon, discovered the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun (reigned ca. 1336-1327 BC), the Egyptian government generally allowed excavators to keep a substantial portion of the finds from excavations undertaken and financed by them.  However, during the decade that it took Carter and his team to recover the thousands of precious objects from this king’s tomb, it became increasingly clear that no such partition of finds would take place in the case of the Tutankamun tomb.

Owing to the splendor of the treasures discovered in the tomb, conjectures soon started nevertheless, suggesting that certain objects of high quality, dating roughly to the time of Tutankhamun and residing in various collections outside Egypt, actually originated from the king’s tomb. Such conjectures intensified after the death of Howard Carter in 1939, when a number of fine objects were found to be part of his estate.  When the Metropolitan Museum acquired some of these objects, however, the whole group had been subjected to careful scrutiny by experts and representatives of the Egyptian government; and subsequent research has found no evidence of such a provenance in the overwhelming majority of cases.  Likewise, a thorough study of objects that entered the Metropolitan Museum from the private collection of Lord Carnarvon in 1926 has not produced any evidence of the kind.
The 19 objects now identified as indeed originating from the tomb of King Tutankahmun can be divided into 2 groups.  Fifteen of the 19 pieces have the status of bits or samples.  The remaining 4 are of more significant art-historical interest and include a small bronze dog less than three-quarters of an inch in height and a small sphinx bracelet-element, acquired from Howard Carter’s niece, after they had been probated with his estate; they were later recognized to have been noted in the tomb records although they do not appear in any excavation photographs. 

Two other pieces — part of a handle and a broad collar accompanied by additional beads — entered the collection because they were found in 1939 among the contents of Carter’s house at Luxor; all of the contents of that house were bequeathed by Carter to the Metropolitan Museum.  Although there was discussion between Harry Burton (a museum photographer based in Egypt, the museum’s last representative in Egypt before World War II broke out, and one of Carter’s two executors) and Herbert Winlock about the origins of these works and about making arrangements for Burton to discuss with a representative of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo whether these works should be handed over to Egypt, that discussion was not resolved before Burton’s death in 1940.  When the Metropolitan Museum’s expedition house in Egypt was closed in 1948, the pieces were sent to New York.

US returns precious ancient artifacts to Egypt

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