For me, archaeology is not a just a job. It combines everything that I could want - imagination, intellect, action, and adventure.

— Zahi Hawass

Battle of the Louvre

On Friday, the Louvre Museum in Paris announced that it would return the five fragments stolen from the tomb of Tetiky within the week, which made me very happy. I think this story is a lesson to museums all over the world not to buy stolen artifacts.

The tomb of Tetiky is Theban Tomb 15, located on the West Bank of Luxor in an area called Dra Abu el Naga. Tetiky was a nobleman of the 18th Dynasty whose tomb included beautiful wall paintings depicting his journey into the afterlife. The tomb was first recorded by Davies in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology in 1925. In 2008, a team of Egyptologists from Heidelberg University investigated the tomb and found several pieces had been cut out of the walls. Slides from 1975 show the wall paintings intact, so we believe they were removed sometime in the 1980’s and sold to private collections in Europe. The Louvre acquired four pieces from the collection of Marianne Maspero in 2000 and the fifth piece from an unnamed collection in 2003.

In May 2008, Dr. Eva Hoffmann of Heidelberg University noticed the 5 painted wall fragments from TT15 in the collection of the Louvre. Her team informed the SCA that they had matched the missing wall fragments from TT15 with those in the Louvre. In January 2009 the SCA presented our evidence to the Louvre, that these objects had left Egypt illegally and should be returned. Officials of the Louvre said they wanted to return them, but the Scientific Commission and the French Ministry of Culture had to approve the decision. This process dragged out for months and no action was taken. When the Louvre applied for their permits to continue their excavations at Saqqara, I was forced to suspend their excavations, because we cannot have teams working in Egypt when we know their organization possesses stolen artifacts. The Louvre claims that it had no knowledge the artifacts were stolen, but I think if the officials had researched the paintings properly, they would have known the origin of these pieces was illegal.
This past Friday a special committee of 35 experts met and recommended that the Louvre return the artifacts. President Sarkozy of France even called President Mubarak of Egypt to assure him that the Louvre would send the objects in 6 days. When the pieces return to Egypt I will hold a press conference in the Cairo Museum. We will examine the pieces and the tomb to see if they can be returned to their original place. If that is not possible, we will exhibit the wall paintings at the Grand Egyptian Museum that we are building. When the objects return I will be very happy to renew our archaeological relationship with the Louvre and allow them to excavate again at Saqqara.

Any museum that buys stolen artifacts will receive this same treatment. I was forced to cut archaeological ties with the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the Saint Louis Art Museum because they would not return artifacts, even after the SCA presented evidence they had been stolen. In 2002 I sent a letter to all the major national museums telling them not to purchase illegal antiquities, because this encourages tomb robbery. When robbers enter the tombs and cut pieces out of the walls and take the objects, they are not just damaging the beauty of the tombs, they are damaging history. I hope this story will be a warning to everyone, all museums and archaeologists, Egyptians and foreigners, not to deal in stolen antiquities. 



CNN Coverage - Egypt Wants Rosetta Stone Back


Javascript is required to view this map.