Is the Sekhemka statue lost for good?

Nevine El-Aref , Saturday 29 Aug 2015

Despite all efforts exerted by Egypt and Britain, the sale procedures for the 4500-year-old statue are to begin soon after an export ban expired on Friday

Sekhemka satatue

The British export ban on the Sekhemka statue expired on Friday, meaning that the 4,500-year-old sculpture could leave the UK for good, into the hands of an anonymous private buyer

A British archaeologist, who asked to remain anonymous, told Ahram Online that the sale procedures are set to start Saturday to hand over the statue to its anonymous buyer.

The Save Sekhemka Action Group has started legal procedures to keep the statue of a pharaonic civil servant in public display at a British museum.

In a statement published on its website, the group describes 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."

Nasry Marco, president of the Court of Arbitration in Egypt and an international lawyer, said that a decree by the Sultan of Egypt in 800AD prohibits the export of any artefacts without written permission and there is no mention of this statue in the records of the Egyptian Museum or any other documents.

"By default it was illegally taken out of the country," he 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.

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

The export bar expired on Friday but according to a statement by the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport the ban could be extended if a UK buyer makes a serious bid.

A British Egyptologist who also requested anonymity told Ahram Online that British Egyptologists believe that there is no much need to buy the statue and pay a large amount of money because “it seems unlikely that any public body will want to be seen to reward Northampton Borough Council by being involved in the purchase of the statue.”

He also said that British museums have a large number of antiquities from the same era as the Sekhemka statue, which make its purchase not worthwhile.

On the other hand, Egypt's Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty, who describes the sale of Sekhemka as "a historically indecent crime," 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.

He also announced that the ministry has stopped all archeological cooperation and relations with Northampton Museum, which sold the statue last year to make up for its lack of funds.

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 Museums 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 compels Egyptian Egyptologists to ask: will the other ancient Egyptian artefacts at the Northampton Museum face the same fate as Sekhemka?

The other artifacts offered by the second Marquess to the Northampton Museum

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