The MET returns some of King Tut’s tomb back to its Egyptian homeland

Nevine El-Aref , Saturday 30 Jul 2011

After nearly nine decades of pertaining to New York's Metropolitan Museum collection, artifacts from Tutankhamun’s tomb return in Egypt to be displayed


Preparations are in full swing at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to display the newly arrived collection of Tutankhamun’s tomb, offered to Egypt by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET).

This collection includes 19 objects from Tutankhamun's tomb, which were formerly in the private collections of archaeologist, Howard Carter, who discovered the tomb and Lord Caernarvon, who sponsored the early 20th century excavation.

These small-scale objects are divided into two groups. Fifteen of them have the status of bits or samples, while the remaining four are of more significant art-historical interest and include a small bronze dog, a small faience sphinx bracelet-element and a collar of beads.

The pieces were acquired by Carter's niece after they had been probated with his estate and were later recognised to have been noted in the tomb records, although they do not appear in any excavation photographs. Two other pieces include a part of a handle and a broad collar accompanied by additional beads, which entered the collection because they were found in 1939 among the contents of Carter's house in Luxor. All of the contents of that home were bequeathed by Carter to the MET.

The story of these belongings of the young pharaoh begins in 1922 when Carter and his sponsor, Caernarvon, discovered Tutankhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings on Luxor's west bank. The Egyptian government at that time generally allowed archaeologists to keep a substantial portion of the finds from excavations, in accordance with laws of the time, that the foreigners had undertaken and financed. However in 1922 when Carter and his team uncovered Tutankhamun's tomb it became increasingly clear that, in this case, the winner took all.

Later on, when pieces dating back roughly to the time of Tutankhamun and residing in various collections outside Egypt, people started to wonder if they actually did originate from the king’s tomb itself. Such conjectures intensified after Howard Carter's death in 1939, when a number of fine objects were found to be part of his estate. When the MET acquired some of these objects, however, the whole group was subjected to careful scrutiny by experts and representatives of the Egyptian government. Subsequent research found no evidence of such a provenance in the overwhelming majority of cases. Likewise, thorough studies of objects that entered the Metropolitan Museum by way of the private collection of Lord Carnarvon in 1926 did  not produce any evidence of the kind.

Recently, following the issuing of Egypt's new antiquities law and its project to resituate illegally smuggled antiquities, two of the MET's curators embarked on an in-depth study to substantiate the history of the objects.

Lo and behold, they eventually did identify them as originating from the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. The MET then offered to return the 19 objects from the famous tomb to Egypt.

Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) takes this as a wonderful gesture on the part of the MET. He pointed out that for many years the MET, and especially its Egyptian Art Department, had been a strong partner in Egypt's ongoing efforts to repatriate antiquities that had been illegally exported. Through their research they have provided the SCA with information that has helped to recover a number of important objects. Last year, Hawass said, the MET returned to Egypt a granite fragment that joined with a shrine on display in the Karnak temple complex in Luxor.

Upon their arrival on Tuesday, the 19 objects will be put on a special display at the Egyptian museum for three months and then will join the permanent display of Tutankhamun's jewellery collection.

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