5,000 and Counting

The BBC reports on the increasingly-aggressive efforts by Egypt to secure the return of objects from the British Museum and Germany’s Neues Museum.  Zahi Hawass claims to have arranged for the return of some 5,000 artifacts:

Later this month Egyptian archaeologists will travel to the Louvre Museum in Paris to collect five ancient fresco fragments stolen from a tomb in the Valley of the Kings in the 1980s, but there are many other “stolen” antiquities which they also want back, reports the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Cairo.

One of the first artefacts that visitors see on entering the pink neoclassical facade of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is a fake.

“This is a replica of the Rosetta Stone. It is the only object in the museum that is not real,” announces a tour guide, his voice echoing through the high-domed hall.”The original is kept in the British Museum.” Before leading his group on to the lines of old-fashioned cabinets filled with ancient treasures, he explains the significance of the basalt slab, which dates back to 196BC and was key to the modern decipherment of hieroglyphics.

The Rosetta Stone presents an interesting case.  Would we think much of the stone if it hadn’t been for Thomas Young and Jean-François Champollion who managed to decipher the hieroglyphic writing?  If so, doesn’t the British Museum have a closer connection to the stone, where it has been almost-continually displayed since 1802.  Of course it was discovered by the French in 1799, and there is certainly a compelling case that those kinds of removals were wrongful.

The quest to regain Egypts antiquities, BBC, Nov. 11, 2009.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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