Stolen Statue

Oct 13, 2020 | Diggings Online | 0 comments

These Articles Are Reproduced With Special Permission From Archeological Diggings Magazine

For More Information And A Subscription, Please Visit www.DiggingsOnline.Com

Hope, we are told, springs eternal in the human breast, but when this most agreeable quality is linked with ignorance and greed, the results can be depressing in the extreme.

A Sudanese gentleman recently turned up at the British Museum in London bearing a heavy cardboard box some two feet long. He identified himself to the information desk as a medical doctor and asked to speak to someone from the Egyptology department. It is not unknown for people to bring objects to the experts at the museum – I have done so myself once or twice and have found the staff not only helpful in the extreme but friendly and courteous into the bargain. I cannot thank them enough for the help they have given me.

The gentleman’s request was, therefore, in no way unusual and the person at the desk picked up the phone and contacted Dr Derek Welsby, assistant keeper in the Department of Ancient Egypt and the Sudan. Dr Welsby spoke to the Sudanese doctor who explained that he had a small statue which had been found by a friend at Jebel Barkal. He would be grateful, the man added, if Dr Welsby could help him identify the object and perhaps assess its value. Dr Welsby invited him to come up to the department and the slightly built Sudanese hefted his heavy box and staggered up the long flight of stairs to the back office where Dr Welsby has his lair.

Once the door was shut the Sudanese became more expansive. As he unpacked the box he explained that what he had was a genuine antique which he had smuggled out of the Sudan by bribing a customs official at Khartoum airport. His purpose in doing so was to sell the object and the British Museum, famous world-wide for its extensive collections, was the obvious buyer.

His antennae already twitching at the mention of smuggling and bribery, Dr Welsby nevertheless maintained a calm air as the Sudanese finally pulled back the wrapping and revealed the lower half of a seated statue of an Egyptian official some 320mm tall and weighing approximately 70 kg. The style of the carving was of the 15th century BC and the quality of the work was excellent, a fact which confirmed Dr Welsby’s suspicions. Clearly this was no object stumbled across on the surface where it had been exposed to millennia of weathering, but must have come from a tomb – illegally excavated – or some other buried site.

The Sudanese doctor grinned happily as Dr Welsby remarked on the external appearance of the object, no doubt anticipating that the price he could ask would be higher in consequence. Dr Welsby then turned to the panel of hieroglyphs down the front of the statue. To the so-called doctor from the Sudan, these had been little more than tiresome decoration similar to a thousand other “antikas”; to Dr Welsby, who reads hieroglyphs like you or I might read a newspaper, they were familiar characters.

His eyes bulged slightly as he read them, however, for they identified the seated figure as the Viceroy of Nubia, Heqa-em-sasen. Not only was the name familiar to an expert in the field, who doubtless had the names of all the viceroys off by heart, much as an American child can recite all the presidents of the United States, but the statue itself rang a bell. Dr Welsby suggested that as the hieroglyphs were many and detailed, his visitor might care to leave the statue with him and allow him to give it the attention it deserved. The unsuspecting Sudanese willingly agreed and gave Dr Welsby his address in London.

As soon as the swarthy gentleman had gone, Dr Welsby ran his fingers over the various publications on his shelves and pulled down a catalogue – and sure enough, there was a photograph of the statue together with a notice to say that far from being found by an ignorant Sudanese a little while before, it had in fact been excavated by an American team in 1916, working on a temple associated with an Egyptian frontier outpost at Jebel Barkal. In 1995 it was stolen from the Jebel Barkal museum. That was enough; Dr Welsby picked up the phone and dialed the number of his local police station and the Sudanese gentleman subsequently received a visit from the boys in blue.

What gets me about this story is the trouble the alleged doctor went to in his attempt to dispose of his ill-gotten gains. No doubt the story of bribing a corrupt customs official at Khartoum airport is true, but that was only the start of the matter. He had to buy a ticket for himself to London and, as the statue weighed a good deal more than the 20kg baggage allowance, he had to pay air-freight for it as well. Employers in the Sudan are not noted for their generosity and we can be sure that even if the fellow was a doctor, the trip cost him a large part of his annual salary. And then to take it to an expert who could identify it instantly . . .

The only explanation can be that to this ignoramus a statue was a statue – an anonymous block of stone coveted by the infidels – and nothing more. Of its history and significance he knew nothing and cared less. Yet the smattering of education he had obtained – whether or not it extended as far as a MD – had taught him enough to know that he would receive more by cutting out the dealers and middle-men and going straight to the premiere collector of antiques, the British Museum.

Truly, a little education is a dangerous thing.

June 2002

Archeology Course 3, Lesson 1

Archaeological science (also known as archaeometry) consists of the application of scientific techniques and methodologies to archaeology. One can divide archaeological science into the following areas Physical and chemical dating methods which provide archaeology...

Biblical Archeology Free Bible Course 2, Lesson 2

Study Bible, Theology, Ministry Masters and Doctoral Diplomas in Trinity School of Apologetics and Theology — A Bible School and Seminary With a Difference! Biblical Archeology Free Bible School Course 2, Lesson 2Milestones in Biblical Archeology Milestones prior to...

Biblical Archeology Bible School Course 2, Lesson 1

Biblical Archeology Bible School Course 2, Lesson 1

Study Bible, Theology, Ministry Masters and Doctoral Diplomas in Trinity School of Apologetics and Theology — A Bible School and Seminary With a Difference! Biblical Archeology Course 2, Lesson 1Biblical Archaeology, A Detailed Introduction Biblical archaeology is the...