Egyptian authorities have said they will take legal action after an auction house in London sold a 3,000-year-old statue believed to depict the famed Pharaoh Tutankhamen.
London-based auction house Christie’s sold a rare “brown quartzite head of young king Tutankhamun” for $ 5.97 million – “including commission and in line with the estimated price before the sales” – on Thursday. The buyer’s identity was not revealed.
The statue represents boy-king Tutankhamun, who ruled Egypt at the age of nine till the age of 19 “from around 1333 B.C. until around 1323 B.C.”
The controversial auction had been demanded to be canceled by Egypt’s Foreign Ministry back in June. The latter asked the fine arts dealer to prove the artifact’s ownership and that it had left Egypt legally.
“We will do our best to stop this auction immediately,” Dr. Mostafa Waziri, the head of Egypt’s supreme council for antiquities, said in June, according to The Guardian. “We will talk to the Egyptian foreign ministry and our ambassador in London to do our best to stop it, as we have to check.”
The over-3,000-year-old statue was owned, according to Christie’s, by Munich-based dealer Heinz Herzer in 1985, Austrian Joseph Messina in 1973-1974, and German Prinz Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis in the 1960s.
Egypt’s former Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, Zahi Hawass, hypothesized that the 28.5 cm-high Tutankhamun statue was taken in the 1970s from the Karnak temple complex, “a vast ancient site in the southern city of Luxor.”
As for Christie’s, it went ahead and cleared its stance in regard to the debate before the auction took place saying, “We recognize that historic objects can raise complex discussions about the past, yet our role today is to work to continue to provide a transparent, legitimate marketplace upholding the highest standards for the transfer of objects.”
Head of the company’s antiquities department, Laetitia Delaloye, explained how the statue is “a very well known piece … and it has never been the subject of a claim.”
Another staff member told The Guardian in June that Christie’s had “informed the Egyptian embassy in London before the sale;” but Egypt had never expressed any concerns regarding the artefact in the past.
This is a black day for archaeology because Tutankhamun is the king of the kings,” Hawass said about the sale, according to CNN”The whole world has to be angry because there is no ethics here.”
In an interview with CNN, Hawass explained how he believes the historical piece deserves to be placed in a museum instead of a “dark room of a rich man.”
Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities has been keeping an eye on international auction houses holding artifacts from the North African country under the hammer. In 1983, the country introduced laws pertaining to the removal of artifacts from its lands.
In January of this year, Egypt recovered an ancient “cartouche of King Amenhotep I” that was smuggled outside the country – ” stolen from the Karnak Open Air Museum in Luxor in 1988″ – and about to be sold in London.