In the past month, local Egyptian news portals focused on the famous Sekhemka statue, which was sold by Northampton Museum at London to a mysterious buyer from the royal family in Qatar. Numerous groups and individuals in both Egypt and the UK requested the British government to prevent the sale until the Ministry of Antiquities in Egypt can prove it is a local heritage statue that should return to its homeland.
Save Sekhemka Action Group announced that the UK the Department of Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) took action and has extended the temporary ‘Export Ban’ on the Sekhemka Statue until 28 August.
According to Northampton Chronicle and Echo, a British-based website, a spokesperson for the UK government department said: “We have decided to allow a final opportunity for a buyer to put forward a serious expression of interest to raise funds to keep the Sekhemka statue in the UK.”
“This shows that the UK Government is thinking seriously about the implications rescinding the ban would have on the international reputation of the UK, especially in Egypt and the Middle East,” said Gunilla Loe, Chairman of Save Sekhemka Action Group, in a press release.
The group is currently requesting the government to initiate negotiations between the buyer, DCMS, The Museums Association and Arts Council England and Christie’s Auction House to find another suitable museum for the statue to be shown at, in case it stayed in England.
The group believes that if the UK government allowed the statue, which is owned by public, to be sold as private property, it would encourage local authorities to sell valuable precious artefacts for the sake of financial gain and completely ignore that Local Authority is the custodian, not the owner, of public collections.
The press release stressed that artefacts held in public collections anywhere are not for sale and cannot, once sold from such a collection, be repurchased with public money. “This is because they already belong to the public who rightly understand their deep cultural importance” Loe stated.
Sekhemka, an ancient scribe of the 5th Pharaonic Dynasty, which dates back to 2300 BC, was celebrated with a sculpture made out of garnet. The scribe’s statue was carved out of the coloured stone, and measured 75 cm in height and 29.5 cm in width. It was legally taken from Egypt to England during the Mohamed Ali dynasty.
Back then, the policy gave both the financier and the country the right to divide any new findings by a legal percentage. However, due to the lack of specifications, laws and regulatory bodies, the statue was never registered in Egypt and was taken abroad.
In July 2014, the statue was sold for £15.76m to a Qatari millionaire in an auction, and both the British and Egyptians expressed their outrage.
Immediately after the statue’s sale, many people demonstrated against the museum in London, believing that heritage cannot be sold for personal interests, and that it belongs to all humanity.
While the active group in Egypt is pressuring the government to keep negotiating with the UK to bring back Sekhemka to Egypt, the Ministry of Antiquities discovered four more antiquities drowned at a fishing marina in a small town in Upper Egypt.
“Three of the antiquities go back to the Greek-Roman era,” said Ahmed El-Rawy, Chairman of the Central Administration of the Egyptian Ports Archaeological Units. “They are made of pottery aside flower- shaped column made of white marble.”
As for the fourth piece, it’s a pottery dish covered by a shiny layer of green colour and goes back to the Byzantine era.
These were not the only attempts by the ministry to save as much valuable antiquities as possible. The Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Al-Damaty announced that he’s communicating with Nicolas Reeves, a British Egyptologist, about the last scientific evidence.
The evidence indicated that Queen Nefertiti is buried in King Tutankhamen’s tomb at the Valley of the Kings. The evidence is based on scans and photographs of the tomb that showed two cracks on the wall they were drawn on. This may suggest the presence of two doors leading to passageways.
“I have been testing the evidence ever since, looking for indications that what I thought I was seeing was, in fact, not there,” Reeves told the BBC. “But the more I looked, the more information I found that I seemed to be looking at something pretty real.”
“If I’m wrong, I’m wrong,” Reeves added. “But if I’m right this is potentially the biggest archaeological discovery ever made.”