This is perhaps one of the best pieces of news that I have received over the past few months. I am, of course, talking about the return of an ancient statue from Canada to Egypt. The story of this statue begins with the Canadian authorities arresting a foreign traveller arriving in Canada from Egypt. This traveller had a Greek-era statue in his possession which he had bought from an antiques dealer in Egypt. The Canadian authorities contacted Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities [SCA] in order to pursue this case and complete the procedures in order to return this statue back to Egypt. This was around three years ago.
The statue is a marble bust approximately 13 cm in height. The Canadian Heritage Foundation looked after this statue, however after the Canadian authorities confirmed that the traveller in question had no legal right of ownership of this statue, the SCA had the right to claim it in accordance with 1970 UNESCO convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. We sent an official letter to the Canadian authorities asking that they hand over the statue of Egyptian Ambassador to Canada, Mr. Shamel Nasser. Ambassador Nasser did indeed receive this statue [this week] and has supervised its shipping back to Egypt.
This story reminds me of something else that also happened in Canada. A Canadian woman living in the city of Toronto heard me talking about the SCA’s efforts to restore and return Egypt’s stolen antiquities. She sent me a letter saying that she had purchased an ancient Egyptian statue from London for £10,000, and that she would like to return this statue to Egypt. I replied with a letter thanking her for her kind gesture, and extended an invitation for her to visit Egypt and meet with me so that we could thank her in person and take her on a tour of Egypt’s most important antiquities and archaeological sights.
But I was in for a big surprise. The woman sent me another letter saying that she would gladly return the statue if Egypt would reimburse her for the sum that she had originally paid for it, even including her address in Canada so that we could send her a cheque for the required sum. I could see that this was a difficult situation, especially as the statue that this women had in her possession was a very beautiful one of a maiden with a snake entwined around her. However it is impossible for us to pay money for the return of an artefact. This would only encourage anybody still in possession of such treasures to ask for money in order to return them. There was no other solution but to send a letter to this woman explaining the grave consequences of provoking the curse of the pharaohs and how such a curse befalls anybody who dares to exhibit a Pharaonic statue inside their home, as such statues are more usually placed in graves, and how placing a statue such as this in one’s home angers the pharaohs and provokes their curse.
The funny thing is that as soon as my letter reached the woman, she rushed to the Egyptian embassy in Toronto and handed over the statue, who in turn returned it to Egypt. I have not heard anything from this woman following this incident, however it seems that the curse of the pharaohs worked in our favour this time and spared us from paying a ransom in return for a stolen statue.
There are many stories about Egypt’s stolen artefacts which were part of the Pharaonic world, only to end up part of the criminal underworld of archaeological thieves. Such thieves have plundered the artefacts of the Nile Valley for centuries, but we are on the lookout for them.