Egypt’s ministries of antiquities and foreign affairs issued a joint statement late on Wednesday condemning Christie's auction house for going ahead with the sale of a head of King Tutankhamun in London despite an outcry from the Egyptian authorities.
The statement pointed out that the commencement of the auction, despite all the procedures taken by the Egyptian authorities, violates all international conventions, treaties, and agreements due to the lack of ownership documents from the auction house.
Earlier last month when the auction catalogue was published, both Egyptian ministries of antiquities and foreign Affairs called on Christie’s auction hall and UNESCO to stop the sale of the quartzite head, which belongs to Tutankhamun along with other 31 ancient Egyptian objects.
Both ministries have also asked Christie's to provide ownership documents, however the auction house has yet to show these documents, even after claiming Prince Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis’s ownership over Tutankhamun’s head. Taxis lived from 1919 to 2004. He sold it in 1973 or 1974 to Josef Messina, the owner of Galerie Kokorian & Co, Vienna.
The ministry of antiquities has also sent a report to the Prosecutor General, who in turn sent a rogatory to his counterpart in London.
Renowned Egyptian Egyptologist Zahi Hawass on Thursday described Christie's action as “a black point on the auction house’s history as Tutankhamun belongs not only to the Egyptian Civilization but to all humanity.”
He told Ahram Online that Prince Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis, whom Christie's claims his ownership to the head, is dead and had never owned it or owned any other antiquities collection, “which shows that Christie's does not have any evidence that the head was legally exported.” Hawass believes that the head was looted from the Karnak Temples during the 1970s.
Live Science magazine’s website, which interviewed the family and friends of the prince and gathered documents on his life, reported that both Viktor von Thurn und Taxis, Wilhelm's son, and Daria von Thurn und Taxis, Wilhelm's niece, confirmed that Wilhelm has never owned the sculpture. Furthermore, Daria said in an interview that Wilhelm had no interest in ancient artifacts, or art in general.
“It is for the best that Christie's return back the head to its homeland to be displayed as part of Tutankhamun’s exhibition in Paris and London. Afterwards it will return to Egypt and be displayed in the Grand Egyptian Museum within Tutankhamun’s collection where the whole world can view and admire instead of being sold to rich people and displayed in some dark room where no one may see it,” Hawass told Ahram Online.
“If Tutankhamun’s head were to be put this evening on auction, it would be a dark day in the history of Christie's House,” Hawass asserted.
In support of Egypt’s efforts to stop the sale of Tutankhamun’s head and return it back to the country, the Saving Egyptian Antiquities Association will organize a sit-in in front of Christie's auction house in London, in the same evening of the auction, said Heba Aziz, head of the Association.
She also calls for changing one of the articles of the 1970’s UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transport of Ownership of Cultural Property. The article, Aziz said, stipulates that: the States Parties undertake, at the request of the State Party "of origin", appropriate steps to recover and return any such cultural property imported after the entry into force of this Convention in both States concerned, provided, however, that the requesting State shall pay just compensation to an innocent purchaser or to a person who has valid title to that property.
The Association’s sit-in will take place in front of the Christie's auction hall, in cooperation with the London-based Association for Saving Antiquities.