January 20, 2009

Egypt askes Sweden to return artefacts

Posted at 1:35 pm in Similar cases

The ever pugnacious Zahi Hawass has issued a formal request to Sweden asking for the return of 212 artefacts.

International Herald Tribune

Egypt asks Sweden to return artifacts
The Associated Press
Published: January 19, 2009

CAIRO, Egypt: Egypt has formally asked Sweden for the return of 212 artifacts taken out of the country by a Swedish collector in mid 1920s, Egypt’s chief archaeologist said Monday.

Zahi Hawass, the head of the Council of Antiquities, said in a statement that the council’s lawyer has been in touch with Ostergotlands County Museum in Sweden.

The artifacts, Hawass said, were taken “in an illegal manner” by Otto Smith, a collector who was digging in Egypt at locations such as Saqqara and Luxor in mid 1920s, when there was a huge appetite for Egyptian artifacts in the West.

Smith took the objects home to Sweden with him, and after his death in 1959 his family gave the pieces to the Ostergotlands Museum, asking the museum to look after them, according to Hawass. The museum is located in Linkoping, 130 miles (210 kilometers) southwest of Stockholm, Sweden’s capital.

The museum Web site said the collection was donated in 1956 but the discrepancy in the dates of the donation could not immediately be resolved.

Hawass said the museum displayed some of the artifacts in its restaurant, which caused damage and neglect. He added that the Smith family has now accused the museum of breach of contract and also wanted the pieces returned to Egypt.

The family could not immediately be reached for comment.

Museum director Maria Jansen confirmed that Egypt was interested in recovering about 200 items donated to the museum by the Smith family in the 1950s.

She told The Associated Press that she was contacted by the Egyptian Embassy in Stockholm about the matter, but added she was awaiting a formal request before she could comment further.

Although the artifacts can’t compare to those held by bigger institutions such as the British Museum in London, Jansen said it’s “one of our most important collections.”

Hawass said the objects include items from the pharaonic era and ancient Egyptian Coptic pieces.

Egypt has been struggling to recover much of its looted cultural heritage.

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