A 3,000-year-old bust of Pharaoh Tutankhamun has been sold at an auction in London for more than £4.7 million ($6 million) despite claims by Egypt that the rare relic was stolen and should be returned.
The item, depicting the boy king as the god Amen, displayed at Christie’s London auction house, was bought for £4,746,250 ($5.97m), including commission and in line with the estimated price before the sale, Christie’s said.
The 11-inch statue, with damage only to the ears and nose, was sold from the private Resandro collection of Egyptian art, The Guardian reports. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry had earlier raised issues about the sale.
It demanded that the London auction house provide documents proving the statue’s ownership, adding that Egypt holds rights to the item based on its laws. Egypt introduced laws in 1983 banning the removal of artefacts from the country.
But auction house Christie’s said the brown quartzite had never been subject to previous investigations or allegations about its origins.
“The object is not, and has not been, the subject of an investigation,” Christie’s said in a statement. The bust was sold after a rapid bidding process. Its price rose rapidly from a starting bid of £3 million ($3.8 million) to the £4.7 million ($6 million) it was sold for, reports The Telegraph.
“This was a rare, beautiful and important work.
“We recognise 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,” said a spokesperson for the auction house.
“There is an honourable market for ancient art and we believe it is in the public interest that works come out into the open with the opportunity for them to be researched, as well as seen and enjoyed by global audiences.”
Egypt’s former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass earlier told AFP that the bust could have been stolen from Karnak Temple during the 1970s. But Christie’s denied this and said it had gone through all necessary processes to be sure of its origins.
A statement subsequently released by Christie’s spokesperson to CNN said the statue was acquired from Munich-based dealer Heinz Herzer in 1985 and was previously owned by Joseph Messina and Prinz Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis. The spokesperson added: “Ancient objects by their nature cannot be traced over millennia.”
Egpyt, the Cradle of Civilization, however, did not give up on the fight and through the Ministry of Antiquities, asked the auction house to halt sales and return its property.
On July 4, the sale of the ancient item still went ahead despite these concerns. During the sale, around 20 protesters stood silently and held placards that said “Egyptian history is not for sale”, the report by The Guardian said.
Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt’s supreme council of antiquities, who expressed disappointment over the development, said Egypt would continue to mount pressure on the buyer and others for the item to be returned.
The demand for stolen artefacts by Egypt follows a year-long campaign of several African countries asking for the return of their monuments from European countries such as France, USA and the UK.
The Egyptian government is confident that it will get its statue back after the successful return of a section of a tablet that was stolen from the Karnak Open Air Museum in Luxor, Egypt, in 1988 following news that it was going to be auctioned in London.