December 22, 2009

Could a loan be the solution to the return of the Rosetta Stone?

Posted at 2:02 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

The British Museum act prevents the institution from de-accessioning artefacts from its collection – but a suggested loan of the Rosetta Stone (which it is also suggested does not even need to be long term) could lead to a possible solution to the problem. Or not, as the case may be.

BBC News

Page last updated at 21:31 GMT, Tuesday, 8 December 2009
Rosetta Stone row ‘would be solved by loan to Egypt’

Egypt’s head of antiquities will drop a demand for the permanent return of the Rosetta Stone if the British Museum agrees to loan it out, he says.

The Stone – a basalt slab dating back to 196BC which was key to the modern deciphering of hieroglyphics – has been at the museum since 1802.

Dr Zahi Hawass has long called for foreign museums to return six of the most prized antiquities of Egypt.

The British Museum said it would consider the loan request soon.

A spokeswoman said no official request had been made by Egypt for the permanent return of the stone, but the loan had been discussed and would be considered by the museum’s trustees “fairly shortly”.

Dr Hawass said while he still ultimately wanted the stone to have its home in Cairo, he would settle for the British Museum’s acceptance of his request for a three-month loan.

He had written to the museum to ask for the stone to be made available temporarily for the opening of Egypt’s Grand Museum at Giza, due by 2013, he said. Other European museums have been sent similar requests.

He said the response from some museums had been “not good”, with questions over how they could guarantee artefacts would be returned at the end of the loans.

“We are not pirates of the Caribbean. We are a civilised country. If I sign something I will do it,” he told the BBC’s Nick Higham.

“We have the right for our monuments to be shown.”

The Rosetta Stone, discovered in Egypt by French soldiers in 1799 and given to the English under the terms of the Treaty of Alexandria two years later, is one of the most high-profile items Dr Hawass has previously demanded be returned.

What makes it so significant is that it contains the same text in Egyptian hieroglyphs, another ancient Egyptian script and in ancient Greek.

The presence of that Greek translation meant that for the first time it was possible to use the stone to decipher and understand hieroglyphs.

Last month Egyptian archaeologists travelled to the Louvre Museum in Paris to collect five ancient fresco fragments stolen from a tomb in the Valley of the Kings in the 1980s.

Dr Hawass also lobbies for the return of other cultural objects deemed to be of great archaeological value to Egypt.

This includes the 3,500-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti, wife of the famous Pharaoh Akhenaten, on show at the newly re-opened Neues Museum in Berlin, Germany.

Other items on his wish list include a statue of Hemiunu, the architect of the Great Pyramid at Giza – also in Germany; the bust of Anchhaf, builder of the Chepren Pyramid – at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; a painted Zodiac from the Dendera temple, which is kept at the Louvre, and the statue of Ramesses II in Turin Museum.

Since he became head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in 2002, Mr Hawass claims to have returned 5,000 artefacts to Egypt which he says were stolen.

Thousands of artefacts were spirited out of Egypt during the period of colonial rule and afterwards by archaeologists, adventurers and thieves.

According to a 1970 United Nations agreement, artefacts are the property of their country of origin and pieces smuggled out must be returned.

Egypt also pursues items taken before that time if it has evidence of illegal practices. However, the process of determining whether an item has ever been stolen can be laborious and complicated.

The Times

December 8, 2009
Egypt ignores rebuff and demands British Museum return Rosetta Stone
Sheera Frenkel in Cairo

Egypt’s most senior antiquities official will visit Britain tomorrow to push on with a campaign to have the Rosetta Stone returned from the British Museum to its native country.

Speaking in his offices, amid piles of Pharaonic books, museum records and archaeological dig requests, Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said he would not be swayed by the British Museum’s refusal to return the item, which he considers the “icon of Egyptian identity”.

Dr Hawass, who will meet egyptologists in London, has been encouraged in his campaign by his success in securing the return of five ancient fresco fragments from the Louvre in Paris . Dr Hawass is also pursuing the return of the Queen Nefertiti bust from Neues Museum, Berlin, the Dendera Zodiac from the Louvre and a bust of the pyramid builder Ankhaf from the Boston Museum of Fine Art. Dr Hawass, 52, said he has an “entire department” working to uncover evidence of other stolen Egyptian antiquities.

“We have evidence, direct evidence, that proves exactly what was stolen. For all of our history our heritage was stolen from us. It is important for Egyptians that it is returned,” he said.

England does not truly value the Rosetta Stone, he said. “They kept it in a dark, badly lit room until I came and requested it. Suddenly it became important to them.”

The Rosetta Stone has been on display in the British Museum since 1802. Three translations of the same text on the 2,200-year-old tablet provided the key to deciphering Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs — and earned the artefact a place in popular culture as the key for unlocking any mystery.

Discovered by Napoleon’s army in 1799, the stone was handed over to England as part of the Treaty of Alexandria in 1801.

Dr Hawass first demanded the return of the stone in July 2003. After a series of negotiations, the British Museum sent Cairo a replica of the stone in November 2005. The museum said yesterday it would not return the original item. “The trustees feel strongly that the collection must remain as a whole,” it said.

European curators have voiced concern privately that the items in Egyptian museums are not properly maintained and protected. On a recent visit to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo tourists could be seen reaching out to touch items that lay exposed in crowded exhibit rooms.

Samuel Mendes, an American tourist, said he was shocked at how close he could get to some of the items. “So many of the rooms didn’t have guards, and I could have touched so many of the things so easily. We didn’t but some of the kids did and it was very upsetting.”

Dr Hawass said that Egypt is in the midst of a revolution that will make the museum in Cairo “one of the best in the world”. Egypt has spent more than one billion Egyptian pounds (£110 million) on cultural heritage sites, he said, but pillaging by colonial powers has left it with second-rate exhibits. He said that he has been personally responsible for the return of more than 5,000 items to Egypt since he became head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities in 2002.

“Hawass is a formidable man. Everything goes through him, and he has made sure that he has complete control,” said one nervous visitor, waiting to see him about a travelling exhibit to the US.

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