Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Northampton Museums Service breached museum Code of Ethics

Northampton Museums Service has withdrawn from Museums Association due to the sale of an Egyptian statue (Geraldine Kendall, "MA bars Northampton Museums Service for minimum of five years", MA 1 October 2014).
The disciplinary panel ruled that the service, which is run by Northampton Borough Council, had breached the MA’s code of ethics by selling the ancient Egyptian statue Sekhemka from the collection of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. 
The statue was sold at Christie’s in July for £15.8m and the council intends to share the proceeds with Lord Northampton, whose ancestors donated the statue to the museum. The council plans to use its share of the proceeds to fund a £14m extension of the museum. 
The committee ruling found that the council had not demonstrated that the sale of Sekhemka was funding of last resort in relation to the development plans for the museum site. In addition, its plan to share the proceeds of the sale indicated that legal title of the object was not resolved. 
David Fleming, the chairman of the MA's ethics committee, said: “We do appreciate the huge financial pressure that many local authority museums are under at the present time, but the MA's Code of Ethics provides for such a sale only as a last resort after other sources of funding have been thoroughly explored. 
“At a time when public finances are pressured it is all the more important that museum authorities behave in an ethical fashion in order to safeguard the long-term public interest. Museums have a duty to hold their collections in trust for society. They should not treat their collections as assets to be monetized for short-term gain.” 
Sharon Heal, the MA’s acting head of policy, said that the association had decided to bar the museums service from membership after careful consideration. 
“Northampton Borough Council has clearly breached the MA’s Code of Ethics by selling the statues from its collection. Its actions are a clear violation of public trust at a local, national and international level. 
“The MA is convening a summit of funding bodies later in the year to agree on a new range of sanctions and deterrents for governing bodies considering this course of action.”
This is a major setback for Northampton's plans to develop their museum service.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ka Nefer Nefer Mask: a review of its acquisition

I have now reviewed the available correspondence and memoranda for the acquisition (and related due diligence process) of the Ka Nefer Nefer mask purchased by the St Louis Art Museum. There is clearly new evidence that has not been discussed before and that did not appear to form part of the legal cases that concluded in 2014.

I am grateful to numerous colleagues who have assisted in pointing me to leads - and for making helpful comments.

The key questions are as follows:
a. What was the reported collecting history of the mask as known at the point of acquisition by SLAM?
b. How was the emerging collecting history (and documentation) verified?
c. How did SLAM curatorial staff respond to the February 1999 revelation that the mask had been excavated at Saqqara? Did they contact the Egyptian SCA?
d. Did SLAM curatorial staff contact Dr Zahi Hawass and the SCA when allegations were made about how the mask surfaced?
e. When was the identifying personal name removed from the hand on the mask?


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Thursday, September 25, 2014

SLAM and the SCA

It is now clear that curators at SLAM knew that the Ka Nefer Nefer mummy mask (but with name removed) was the one excavated (with name intact) at Saqqara when they were informed by an Egyptologist in February 1999. I remain puzzled by the apparent lack of contact with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA). Why did SLAM contact the Cairo Museum in 1997 (prior to the purchase) in preference to the SCA?

Were the authorities at SLAM ever advised to contact the SCA? Was that advice heeded?


There are continuing questions about the depth of rigour in the due diligence process both pre and post the acquisition of the mask.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Roman Sarcophagus due to be returned to Italy

Source: ICE
Ric St Hilaire has written about the likely return of the Roman sarcophagus lid to Italy ("Stipulation Puts a Lid on Litigation Over Roman Sarcophagus Cover Featured in the Becchina Archive", September 22, 2014). The sarcophagus was recognised from the Becchina archive. The sarcophagus has been handled by Noryioshi Horiuchi.

Horiuchi has been at the centre of the the Italian Operation Andromeda. Some 20000 antiquities have already been seized from the dealer.

If the sarcophagus is indeed returned to Italy it will increase the pressure on the Miho Museum in Japan to resolve Italian claims on a number of objects that have also featured in the seized photographic archives.

But where are the antiquities that Horiuchi has handled over time? Who purchased them? Which other dealers are linked?

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Ka Nefer Nefer Mask: some clarification

I am very grateful to officials at SLAM for clarifying some of the collecting history of the Ka Nefer Nefer mask. It has now been confirmed that a SLAM conservator was informed by a European Egyptologist in February 1999 that the mask was the one excavated at Saqqara by Goneim (and subsequently published by him). It is not clear if curators at SLAM contacted the SCA immediately or if they waited seven years until they received a letter from Zahi Hawass in February 2006.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The identification of Ka Nefer Nefer

I have already reflected on the significance of 1999 for the collecting history of the Ka Nefer Nefer mask acquired by the St Louis Art Museum.

It now appears that a member of the curatorial team at SLAM was informed about the Saqqara link by an Egyptologist at a major encyclopedic museum less than a year after its acquisition.

This is correspondence that has not been mentioned in the discussion of the mask up to this point.

During the subsequent few months Sidney Goldstein seems to have been made aware of Charly Mathez's claim to have seen the mask in Belgium, and in late September 1999 Goldstein wrote to him for clarification. (Up to now it has not been clear what prompted Goldstein to write his letter.)

Did Goldstein write again to Mohammed Saleh in Cairo seeking further advice? Which Egyptian officials were contacted by SLAM curators in 1999 to check out the Saqqara story?

What additional due diligence steps did SLAM undertake to explore the emerging collecting history for the mask?

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Zakaria Goneim excavating in Egypt


Here is some archive footage of Zakaria Goneim excavating in Egypt.


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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Zakaria Goneim at Saqqara


Zahi Hawass discusses the excavations at Saqqara by Zakaria Goneim.

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The Ka Nefer Nefer Mask and 2005

Paul Barford has written about Michel van Rijn's public comments on the acquisition of the Ka Nefer Nefer mask by the St Louis Art Museum.

I am grateful to a reader of LM for sending me the archived link to van Rijn's post. Although it is not dated (there is an update on 18 December 2005), the correspondence confirms a date in December 2005.

Leaving aside style and presentation, what did van Rijn suggest and reveal?

  • the mask had been removed from the store at Saqqara
  • the name of the person responsible
  • the removal took place in the 1990s
  • the mask had been published by Goneim

In December 2005 this information had not been made public although it appears that SLAM curators had been advised of the Saqqara link and the Goneim publication some years before.

So how did van Rijn know this?

SLAM officials need to release documents that will outline what they knew and when.

And what did they do to investigate these claims?

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