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Ancient Egyptian Wisdom ... Daily Practice

Friday, October 30, 2009

New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art Returns Artifact to Egypt

Officials at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art returned an artifact to the Egyptian government on Thursday. The red granite fragment was on loan to the museum from an unnamed private owner. As museum staff inspected the artifact, which has never been displayed on the premises, they realized that the fragment was the corner of the base of a shrine enclosure meant to contain the statue of a deity. The shrine was dedicated to Amun, the chief deity of Karnak (Ipet-Isut), by Amenemhat I.

Dorothea Arnold, the Chairman of the Museum's Egyptian Art Department recognized the piece, "For a long time, I puzzled about the object to which this fragment belonged. I finally pieced it together when I came across a photograph showing the Naos in Karnak which is missing a corner in an article by Luc Gabolde in the journal Egypt Afrique et Orient ... We decided that, in these circumstances, the appropriate thing to do was to alert the Egyptian authorities and to make arrangements with the owner so that we could return the fragment to Egypt." The MET purchased the granite block, which was acquired last October on the antiquities market, in order to repatriate it.

This was not the first time that the MET returned "ill-gotten" objects to Egypt. 8 years ago the museum returned a 19th dynasty relief displaying the head of a goddess. The item was recognized by a Dutch Egyptologist, who had studied a chapel dedicated to Seti I at Memphis (originally Men-Nefer). Similar to the latest repatriated relief, the Seti I relief was purchased by the museum to facilitate its return.

Most media outlets hailed the relief's return as a victory for Zahi Hawass, the very visible head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. Hawass has lead a public battle to return many of Egypt's most noted artifacts on foreign soil, including the Rosetta Stone (British Museum) and the disputed bust of Queen Nefertiti (Neues Museum in Berlin). After refusing to return a golden burial mask of a noblewoman, Hawass cut ties with the Saint Louis Art Museum. He next lobbied France's Louvre to return 5 painted wall fragments. The Louve relented after Hawass cut ties with the museum by halting their excavations and cancelling a lecture by a former staff member. Hawass has still remained "chilly" to France's Minister of Culture after the return of the items.

Regular readers of The Udjat should know that I am certainly no fan of Zahi Hawass (read one of my posts on the topic here). He has worked diligently to deny the African origins of the Ancient Egyptians. I am also routinely annoyed by his obligatory inclusion in virtually any documentary by the History Channel on Kemet. He very seldom adds anything of value to the discussions. I must give Hawass credit, however, for his dogged commitment to the return of Egypt's ancient artifacts. I regularly ask who "owns" the artifacts and legacy of Kemet. While I don't think that the region's current Arabic inhabitants are this lofty civilization's heir, I do think that the wholesale rape of these historic treasures by foreign nations is a great tragedy. Our current fixation is on a slab of red granite from an important shrine. I'd like to know when we'll begin to discuss the "ownership" of mummies by these same museums. After all, these are actually human bodies; individuals who never thought they would ever be removed from their resting places. How would you feel if the body of a cherished uncle, or ever a grandparent was exhumed for public display. Do you think the Vatican (or any other Christian country) would allow the exhumation of the body of an early Pope? What's the difference? Who speak for Ancient Africans? Currently ... no one.

Okay. I think you've heard enough of my ranting. I'm sure you're probably thinking that without all of these artifacts in a variety of countries around the world, we would know much less about the early civilization that paved our way. That's probably true. However, I think I really want to hear much more honest public discourse about these facts. Public discourse which includes the descendants of these wonderful forbearers. Even though they are now among the most downtrodden inhabitants of the planet. Up you might race, you can accomplish what you will! Shem em Hetep (Go forth in peace)!

Related Articles:
LA Times - http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2009/10/monster-mash-13.html
NY Times - http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/10/27/world/AP-ML-Egypt-Met.html
MET Press Release (Dorthea Arnold Quotation)- http://www.metmuseum.org/press_room/full_release.asp?prid={768AF8B3-20A5-4EB6-820F-2DECCBC8854D}
Fragment Photo Credit - Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities/Associated Press

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