Showing posts with label Egyptian antiquities looting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Egyptian antiquities looting. Show all posts

March 19, 2017

One well documented theft = three separate seizures - Egypt's successes in curbing the sale of a stolen ancient objects

Image Credit: Antiquities Repatriation Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt
Four years after being stolen and then trafficked illegally out of Egypt, a painted wooden New Kingdom mummy mask has been returned to its country of origin this week, after turning up at a French antiquities auction in December 2016.

The mask is just one of 96 artifacts from the Pharaonic, Greek and Roman periods, discovered during foreign archaeological missions which were stolen in 2013, during a break-in of the Museum of Antiquities storage facilities at Elephantine. An archaeologically rich island, Elephantine is the largest island in the Aswan archipelago in Northern Nubia, Egypt. The island lies opposite central Aswan, just north of the First Cataract on the Nile.  


Given that the professionally excavated objects were formal discoveries by authorized archaeological missions, versus illicitly excavated, the stolen antiquities, were well documented.   This gave the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities the necessary evidentiary documentation to list the ancient objects as possibly in circulation with national and international law enforcement authorities.  

One Well Documented Theft = Numerous Separate Seizures

Monitoring the antiquities market closely, Egypt has succeeded in stopping the sale of several stolen objects from this single theft over the last few years. In this most recent incident, once the mummy mask had been spotted, Shabaan Abdel Gawad, the general supervisor of the Antiquities Repatriation Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, was able to request that the mask's auction be halted, demanding the object's return through formal channels via the Egyptian embassy in Paris.

Image Credit: Antiquities Repatriation
Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt
Earlier, on January 29, 2017, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities announced that a deputy from the British Museum had handed over a 16.5 centimeter tall, carved wooden Ushabti statue with gold inscriptions.  This ancient object, stolen during the same break-in, had been relinquished by a British citizen. The funerary object had been excavated by Spanish archaeologists at the site of the Qubbet al-Hawa Necropolis in Aswan, and dates to ancient Egypt’s Middle Kingdom period (circa 1990 BCE – 1775 BCE). 

Ushabti statues, sometimes called simply "Shabtis" by dealers in the antiquities trade, are very popular with ancient art collectors. These small wooden and stone figurines were once placed in Egyptian tombs, intended to function as the servants of the deceased during their afterlife.

Image Credit: Antiquities Repatriation
Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt
On June 14, 2015 a 2,300 year old Ancient Egyptian ivory statuette was identified up for sale at the Aton Gallery of Egyptian Art in Oberhausen, Germany. Stolen during the same 2013 robbery, this 11.5 cm tall, statuette of a man carrying a gazelle over his shoulders, was unearthed in 2008 by a Swiss archaeological mission that had been carrying out excavations at the Khnum Temple at Elephantine.  Once identified at the auction house, the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry reported the auction to INTERPOL.

The statuette is believed to date back to Egypt's Late Period, from 664-332 BCE which ended with the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great and the establishment of the Ptolemaic Dynasty.

According to a screenshot grabbed by ARCA on June 14, 2015 (and since removed from the dealer's website), the web page depicted the object's upcoming auction and included a reserve price of $5050.  At the time of the auction, Aton Gallery had listed the provenance for the ivory figurine as being part of a German private collection, formed in the 60s and 70s, before being part of an earlier American Collection formed in the 1930s.  Misleading provenance, in this case either by the auction house or the consignor, underscores how easy stolen and looted antiquities can be made to appear part of older more established collections, when in fact they are not. 
ARCA Screenshot capture: June 14, 2015
Piece by priceless piece, Egypt is taking collectors and dealers to task.  And while 93 of the 96 stolen items are still out there, three recoveries are better than none.  

France Desmarais of ICOM’s International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods has stated 

"Stolen items are not necessarily lost forever because many can be recovered and will inevitably resurface at some point in time, whether in the art market or while crossing borders."

But Egypt’s police force and governmental heritage authorities can only do so much in their protection of the country’s thousands of archaeological sites, museums and historical objects.  This vulnerability is something looters are all too aware of. 

Playing on the limited resources of source countries, especially those suffering from political turmoil, looters, middlemen and traffickers can wait years before floating highly valued pieces onto the licit art market.   In the interim, those dealing in black market sales sustain themselves financially on the proceeds derived from a small but steady trickle of smaller finds, often dribbled out to lesser known dealers and galleries. As the art market is adapting to online sales, some items are not being sold through brick and mortar shops any longer, instead, objects are passing through simple one on one, online or social media transactions. 

But while objects from well documented thefts like the one on the Elephantine storeroom eventually do resurface, the process of identify-seizure-forfeiture, on an object by object basis is a painfully slow, and only moderately successful, road to repatriation.  

To staunch the flow of high demand antiquities for vulnerable source countries collectors must begin to hold themselves more accountable.  Knowing what we know today, collectors should curb their consumerist tendencies of wanting what they want when purchasing ancient art without documentation of legal export. More often than not, antiquities without sound paperwork have a higher probability of having been stolen or looted. 

It's time for collectors to take themselves to task, taking stock in the origins of their past purchases and voluntarily relinquishing items bought in the past without concern for legality, when they have have contributed to the theft and looting of historic sites around the globe.

Doing the Right Thing

If you are a collector and you suspect an antiquity you have purchased may have been looted or stolen, here are some things you can do.


If your object is on one of these lists, consult with your local museum's curatorial staff. 

Lastly, Interpol, National Law Enforcement, UNESCO, ICOM and organizations like ARCA maintain contacts with experts familiar with looted and stolen art.   If you have doubts about a purchase and don't know who to contact or need help with the ancient remains in a specific country, please write to us here

By:  Lynda Albertson

February 22, 2016

Second Sentry guard shot at incident at the Deir el-Bersha archaeological site has died

Egyptian news wires have reported that Ali Khalaf Shāker, (علي خلف شاكر), the second site guard protecting the Deir el-Bersha archaeological site, has apparently died on Sunday, February 21, 2016 of his injuries. Mr. Khalaf Shāker was shot during a gun battle with unidentified archaeological site looters along with his colleague and fellow guard A'srāwy Kāmel Jād. 

Information in Arabic on this updated situation can be found here.

Respecting the loss to these two families and their archaeological teammates, ARCA has elected to not post pictures taken of the crime scene. 

For further details on this incident in English please see our earlier two posts here and here. 

The team of the Dayr al-Barsha project, KU Leuven, Belgium has established a Go Fund Me page for A'srāwy's and Ali's family, in order to cover, or partially cover some portion of the loss of his wages. Those who would like to contribute can follow this link

ARCA strongly discourages the purchase of antiquities without a solid collection history; this includes anything made of stone or pottery likely to be more than 100 years old.  We urge collectors to buy the work of contemporary artisans using traditional methods and materials, and to not promote the trade in blood antiquities. 





February 21, 2016

Sentry guards killed at Deir el-Bersha archaeological site identified, Fundraiser established for their families.



In a notice on the university team's webpage the Deir el-Barsha Project has released the following statement.


As the Project's statement might be confusing to blog readers who do not read Arabic, ARCA would like to add some clarifications.  Ghafir (arabic خفير)in this case means site guard or site sentry and is not the guard's first name.

According to Arabic language newspaper Masr al-Arabia, the guard killed in the exchange of gunfire has been:

عسراوي كامل جاد، الشهير بـ "واعر"، المقيم  بقرية دير أبو حنس بملوي

A'srāwy Kāmel Jād, alternatively known as "Wāa'r" who was a resident in the village of Deir Abu Hanas in Mālwi.

Masr al-Arabia lists the guard wounded in the exchange of gunfire as:

علي خلف شاكر، المقيم  بقرية دير أبو حنس بملوي

Ali Khalaf Shāker who is a resident in the village of Deir Abu Hanas in Mālwi.

Shāker passed away on Sunday as a result of his injuries.  

The team of the Dayr al-Barsha project, KU Leuven, Belgium has established a Go Fund Me page for A'srāwy's and Ali's family, in order to cover, or partially cover some portion of the loss of his wages. Those who would like to contribute can follow this link.











February 20, 2016

Notice: Two sentry guards killed at the archaeological site at Deir el-Bersha in Egypt

ARTICLE UPDATED - 22 February 2016

Two archaeological site guards on duty at the archaeological site at at Deir el-Bersha in Egypt have been killed after unknown assailants apparently opened fire while at the site to loot archaeological material.

Sentry A'srāwy Kāmel Jād, alternatively known as "Wāa'r" was a resident of the village of Deir Abu Hanas in Mālwi.  He had been a long standing sentry at the archaeological preserve.  A'srāwy was killed on site.

A second guard, Ali Khalaf Shāker, also a resident of Deir Abu Hanas in Mālwi was transferred in serious condition to Minya University Hospital.   Ali died of his injuries on Sunday, February 21, 2016.

The Coptic village of Deir el-Bersha is located on the east bank of the Nile, south of Hermopolis, what is known today as El-Ashmunein.  It sits on the opposite side of the Nile river from Mallawi. The archaeological site is part of the governorate of Minya. 

The site of Dayr al-Barsha in Middle Egypt has been known since ancient times for its limestone quarries and its renowned Middle Kingdom nomarchal tombs.  The site's necropolis is located at the entrance of Wadi Deir el-Nakhla, in a remote area east of the Nile that is difficult to get to.

Individuals passing through the site do not do so casually. Given the fragility of the site and previous issues of looting, the area is closed to the general public and it is only with  special authorisation, that persons can visit, accompanied by a government official. 

The remoteness of the site is evidenced by the attached Youtube video. 


The site's most important tombs are those of the Nomarchs of the XV Nome, the Nome of the Hare, of Upper Egypt during the XI and XII Dynasty. The tomb of Djehutihotep is the most well studied of the 39 tombs documented at the necropolis. 

Last year, on May 11, 2015, Egyptian Archaeologist Monica Hanna reported looting and extensive destruction to the tomb of Djehutihotep.  According to reports by the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium) archaeology mission, which has been working at Deir el-Barsha in Middle Egypt under the direction of Harco Willems since 2002, a wall relief fragment had been hacked out from the 3,850 year-old tomb which measured 30 by 50 centimeters (12 by 20 inches.)


Pictured below are two sets of comparison images, on showing relief decoration on the left, including the head of a seated figure which were removed.  The second image shows a small triangular segment removed.  Some news reports also suggested that the dig house had also been looted in 2015. 


Image Credit: Dayr al-Barsha Project

ARCA strongly discourages the purchase of antiquities without a solid collection history; this includes anything made of stone or pottery likely to be more than 100 years old.  We urge collectors to buy the work of contemporary artisans using traditional methods and materials, and to not promote the trade in blood antiquities. 

July 30, 2014

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Ancient Egyptian mask likely to stay at St. Louis Art Museum after feds give up legal fight"

Journalist Robert Patrick reported for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 28:
The Department of Justice is giving up its fight to reclaim for Egypt a 3,200-year-old mummy mask that disappeared from that country decades ago and later found its way into the collection of the St. Louis Art Museum. “The Department of Justice will take no further legal action with respect to the mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer,” U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan said in response to questions from the Post-Dispatch on Monday, the deadline for the Department of Justice if it wished to prolong the court battle. Museum officials couldn’t be reached immediately for comment. According to court filings, both sides are still discussing payment of the museum’s legal fees.
Here's the background as previously covered on the ARCA Blog in "The Legal Case of the Mummy Mask of Lady Ka Nefer-Nefer ...".

October 2, 2011

Stonehill College: "Veteran Art Detectives Discuss Most Notorious Cases at Martin Institute"

Photo: Virginia Curry and Dick Ellis
Here's a link to Stonehill College's website and the post about the lecture by former art police investigators, Virginia Curry (FBI) and Dick Ellis (Scotland Yard). Cases highlighted included "Peter the Cheater"; forger Elmyr de Hory; the thefts at Russborough House; looting of Egyptian antiquities; the Sevso Silver; and the involvement of James "Whitey" Bulger in the 1990 theft of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.