Old Kingdom relief first artefact repatriated to Egypt after revolution

Nevine El-Aref , Wednesday 11 May 2011

A fifth dynasty limestone relief of a hunting scene is to be returned to Egypt from the Antikhenmuseum in Basel, Switzerland

the retrieved rellief

The Antikhenmuseum in Basel, Switzerland will return to Egypt a limestone relief depicting a hunting scene from the daily life of its owner. The relief is dated to the fifth dynasty of the Old Kingdom (c. 2649-2134 BC) and it is 51cm high x 83cm in width.

The artefact will return to Egypt later this week as part of the repatriation campaign of Zahi Hawass, minister of state for antiquities affairs (MSAA), who, in 2002, when he was still the secretary general of what was then the Supreme Council of Antiquities, threatened to cut scientific and research ties with any museums, universities or other institutions that held stolen antiquities from the country.

The Basel museum volunteered to return this piece immediately after discovering that it was a stolen from Saqqara. The Antikhenmuseum has already sent back the eye of a colossal quartzite statue of Amenhotep III (c. 1390-1352 BC) found in 1970 at his funerary temple in Kom el-Hettan area on the Luxor west bank. The eye was smuggled out of the country and loaned to the museum by a private collector, where it was recognised by Egyptologist, Hourig Sourouzian, and returned to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo in October 2008.

Hawass will shortly be contacting the ministry of foreign affairs to arrange for an MSAA representative to travel to Switzerland to collect the relief.

Hawass stated that the return of this object is also significant because it is the first artefact to be repatriated to Egypt since the January 25 Revolution.

The MSAA continues its campaign to repatriate stolen artefacts with determination and perseverance.

In response to foreign criticism that the situation in Egypt is not safe enough for objects to be returned, Hawass counters that of the many museums in the country, the Egyptian Museum was the only one to suffer during the revolution. The Museum was protected by a human chain of youth demonstrating in Tahrir Square. He also points out that the one million tourists who were in Egypt at the time all left the country safely.

Hawass argued that if what happened in Cairo – that the police abandoned the streets for 4 hours on 28 January, 2011 – had happened in any other city in the world there would be chaos, thefts and destruction on an even greater scale.

Therefore, he insists, artefacts stolen from Egypt should be returned, adding that many other pieces are due back soon.

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