Egypt Suspends Louvre Saqqara Excavations over Stolen Artefacts

Egypt has decided to suspend all archaeological cooperation with the Louvre, after the French museum refused to return fragments of a Theban Tomb. The news was confirmed today by Dr. Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt’s antiquities department. The artefacts were excavated in a tomb near Luxor, and according to Dr. Hawass were stolen by the French. This decision endangers planned conferences at the Louvre, as well as the French team’s current excavations at Saqqara, the ‘city of the dead’. A boycott of the Louvre‘s Egyptological activities also ensures no archeological expeditions sponsored by the French museum could go ahead in Egypt.

The decision to cut all ties with the Louvre, as well as its archaeological teams, was taken two months ago after the Louvre had repeatedly ignored requests for the return of four reliefs. Dr. Hawass says the reliefs were illegally taken from a tomb in Luxors Valley of the Kings in the 1980s.

The disputed artefacts are 5 fragments from the wall of Theban Tomb 15 (TT15), the tomb of Tetiki on the West Bank at Dra Abu’l Naga. The tomb was photographed in 1968 and shown intact. In the 1990’s the tomb was – like so many – lost, and thought to be destroyed by modern building. A team from the Heidelberg University rediscovered this tomb during excavations at Dra Abu El-Naga in 2001, but the fragments were missing.

DSC01981.JPGFour fragments of TT15 were acquired by the Louvre in 2000, and a fifth one in 2003. In January 2009, the SCA presented the evidence to the Louvre; these fragments that resurfaced in the French Museum’s collection had clearly been stolen.

The Louvre has promised to return the pieces – but that it will have to wait for advice from a national body the French Museum. In September, the SCA informed the Louvre that it was suspending its excavations at Saqqara until the pieces were returned. There is a meeting of the National Scientific Commission for Museum Collections on October 9th, at which the official decision about the return of the fragments of TT15 will be made.

Dr. Hawass has made repatriating ‘stolen’ Egyptian antiquities a priority, especially those he calls ‘icons of our Egyptian identity’ – unique artefacts of Egyptian cultural patrimony. The SCAis also pressuring Berlin’s Neues Museum for the return of the Bust of Neferiti, and the British Museum for the Rosetta Stone. The antiquities chief had already been purusing the Louvre over the Dendera Zodiac, an amazing astronomical chart which was torn from the Temple of Hathor at Dendera by French general Louis Charles Antoine Desaix in 1821.