A 3,000-year-old statue of Tutankhamun’s head was auctioned at Christie's London for almost $6 million on July 4th, but now the Egyptian government, who vehemently opposed the sale, plans to sue.
Almost 100 years since Howard Carter uncovered the tomb of King Tut in Egypt in November 1922, the curiosity and controversy surrounding the young Egyptian pharaoh and tomb raiding has endured. This summer at Christie's, a 14th century BC quartzite head depicting King Tut as the Egyptian god Amen sold, as part of the private Resandro collection, for $5.8 million.
However, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities claims that the 3,000-year-old bust might have been stolen from the Karnak temple in Luxor, and subsequently reached out to the auction house and the UN’s culture agency UNESCO to try and stop the sale. The ministry said it has a claim to artifacts under the current protection of antiquities law (article 42) and requested to see the documents of ownership of the artifact.
Other items in the Resandro collection include marble heads dating from ancient Rome, a painted wooden Egyptian coffin, and a bronze Egyptian cat statue.
The Egyptian Embassy in London was in contact with the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the auction house in order to stop the sale and return the statue to Egypt, saying, “Efforts come in the framework of the eagerness of both the ministry of foreign affairs and the effects towards the continuous coordination of the retrieving of Egyptian artifacts smuggled from abroad.”
However, Christie’s insisted that the statue was sold legitimately. A statement from the auction house said, “We would not offer for sale any object where there was concern over ownership or export. The work has been widely exhibited and published and we have alerted the Egyptian Embassy so they are aware of the sale.”
“Ancient objects by their nature cannot be traced over millennia,” said a spokeswoman for Christie’s. “It is hugely important to establish recent ownership and legal right to sell which we have clearly done. We would not offer for sale any object where there was concern over ownership or export.”
Now, the Egyptian government has announced that they plan to file a lawsuit to retrieve the multimillion dollar ancient sculpture.
Cover image: Statue of Tutankhamun’s head. Photo: Christie’s via The Guardian