Egyptian government officials announced that they will be looking to file a civil suit over the recent $6 million sale of a Tutankhamun bust that took place despite a public outcry as well as the country’s protest over the theft of the ancient artefact. The government and protesters argue that the bust was stolen from Egypt in 1970’s and must be returned to its rightful owners.
The bust is a 3,000 year old brown quartzite head that depicts Pharoah Tutankhamen as the god of Amun, the most significant and holy deity of the New Kingdom.
Egypt’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Tarek Adel, had implored Christie’s in London to delay the auction event until further investigation takes place “regarding the legality of trading these items, the authenticity of their documents and evidence of its legal exportation from Egypt.”
Christie’s moved forward with the sale nonetheless, and said that all checks were in order over the artefact’s provenance, and that the sale is indeed legal and authentic. To back up its claims, it states that Germany’s Prince Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis had the piece in his collection by the 1960’s but it was later acquired by an Austrian dealer in the early 1970’s.
The Egyptian government vehemently disagrees and called on Interpol to investigate the case, claiming that it was stolen from an archaeological site in Luxor.
Earlier this month leading up to the sale, a group of activists protested outside Christie’s auction house in London crying that history should not be sold.
“We will leave no stone unturned until we repatriate the Tutankhamun bust and the other 32 pieces sold by Christie’s,” Egypt’s Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Enany told the BBC. “This is human heritage that should be on public display in its country of origin.”
The legality enters murky waters when considering that any artefact excavated after 1983 belong to the state
“The circumstances of the head’s discovery are unknown, but the current owner, the Resandro Collection, a private German collection of Egyptian art, acquired it from Munich art dealer Heinz Herzer in 1985,” said Artnet.
Both the buyer and seller of the King Tut statue are anonymous however. “The buyer chose to remain anonymous on this occasion,” a Christie’s spokesperson told Live Science. Upon further investigation however, Live Science reported that Wilhelm’s son and niece denied ever having owned the bust, with supporting documents uncovered to support their claim.
After the sale, the Egyptian National Committee for Antiquities Repatriation expressed “deep discontent of the unprofessional way in which the Egyptian artefacts were sold without the provision of the ownership documents and proof that that the artefacts left Egypt in a legitimate manner.”