Egypt on a mission to get back artifacts
April 24, 2010
SUN-TIMES STAFF, ASSOCIATED PRESS
When the King Tut exhibit opened at Chicago’s Field Museum in 2006, Egypt’s antiquities chief Zahi Hawass turned the proceedings upside down, calling out Exelon CEO John Rowe for keeping a 2,600-year-old Egyptian sarcophagus in his office.
“Antiquities should be in museums, not in people’s homes,” he said. He followed up with a blistering letter to the Field urging it to remove Exelon as a sponsor of the exhibit.
Rowe sent the sarcophagus, which he bought from a dealer, to the Field on indefinite loan, ending that flare-up.
Last week, at a preview of a King Tut exhibition in New York, Hawass attacked museums that he claims have refused to return artifacts that belong in Egypt. Hawass, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, singled out several museums, including the St. Louis Art Museum, which he said has a 3,200-year-old mummy mask that was stolen before the museum acquired it.
“We’re going to fight to get these unique artifacts back,” he said at the New York preview of “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs.”
He gave the U.S. Department of Homeland Security “all the evidence that I have to prove that this mask was stolen, and we have to bring it back.”
A spokeswoman said the St. Louis Art Museum had shared information with him on the mask’s provenance.
Thousands of antiquities have been taken out of Egypt — some stolen, some removed by famed archeologists. Many are housed in the world’s greatest museums. Hawass seems to be on a mission to get all of them back.
A favorite foil is James Cuno, director of the Art Institute of Chicago and author of Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage. He argues “antiquities are the cultural property of all humankind.”
Hawass says: “Cuno claims that the fight to have looted artifacts repatriated interferes with the ability of these museums to protect the objects in their collections. What Cuno does not say is that by buying and keeping looted artifacts, museums are offering a direct incentive to thieves.”