Ohio’s Toledo Museum of Art has begun selling off its Egyptian artefacts, leading to outrage among archaeologists and Egyptian officials.
The museum held two auctions on 19 and 25 October to sell artefacts, among other pieces, at Christie’s Auction Hall—a world renowned auction house headquartered in London.
Khaled El-Anany, the minister of antiquities, said that the ministry addressed the director-general of UNESCO and the general secretariat of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) to halt the sale of Egyptian antiquities in auction halls across America.
He explained that some museums across the world are trading Egyptian antiquities rather than preserving them.
El-Anany said that laws in some countries prevent the ministry from recovering Egyptian antiquities that were extracted from Egypt decades and centuries ago, due to a lack of ownership bonds in Egypt that pre-date the modern era.
Bassam El-Shammaa, an Egyptologist and writer, said that it is imperative that the ministry work to prevent the phenomenon of selling Egyptian artefacts in auction halls abroad.
He explained that the situation has exacerbated since the Northampton Museum in Britain displayed a statue of Sekhemkhet-ka for sale at a public auction in order to raise money for development work on the museum in 2012. The statue was sold to an anonymous bidder for ₤16m.
He said Christie’s auction on 25 October put 46 Egyptian artefacts on display for sale. The prices of small pieces ranged from $3,000-5,000, while the bigger piece had starting prices of $35,000. He noted that these prices are far too cheap, considering that these antiquities are priceless.
The auction included artefacts that date back to the prehistoric age, even before the construction of the Giza Pyramids or the unification of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt, and they were being housed in Ohio’s Toledo Museum.
El-Shammaa noted that this auction comes after a previous auction held by the hall on 19 October. The hall offered nearly 40 Egyptian archaeological pieces out of 106 pieces assembled from various historical eras and monuments in the world.
He said that the hall allocated five days for visitors to view the pieces and learn the history of each piece as well as information on previous owners since the pieces were extracted from Egypt.
Another auction for artefacts will be held in New York’s Sotheby’s art and auction house, which is competing with Christie’s in London. The auction is scheduled to be held on 15 December.
Sotheby’s has prepared for the auction by displaying a statue of Sekhmet—the ancient mythical Egyptian goddess—to attract Egyptian artefact lovers. El-Shammaa noted that Egyptian antiquities are the most expensive and best-selling.
El-Shammaa explained that a solution to this problem would be for Egypt to withdrawal from UNESCO as a start, then resorting to the International Court in the Hague to sue auction houses and museums that sell Egyptian antiquities.
Bringing the case to the International Court would be based on a decree issued by Muhammad Ali on 15 August 1835, which prohibited the exodus of antiquities from Egypt.
Shaaban Abdel Gawad, the general supervisor of the Recovered Antiquities Administration at the Ministry of Antiquities, said that the administration succeeded in recovering 70 artefacts during the first half of 2016, from France, Belgium, and Israel.
Abdel Gawad said that the Recovered Antiquities Administration is following 105 of the most famous and largest archaeological auction houses around the world in order to track the issue of selling Egyptian antiquities.
The ministry is slated to hold an exhibition in January to display the recovered antiquities from 2016.