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Tutankhamun statue sells for €5m at auction despite Egyptian authorities' claim it was stolen

Former antiquities minister Dr Zahi Hawass said Christie’s could not prove that the statue left Egypt lawfully.

Image: Christie's Auction House

A STATUE BELIEVED to depict Egyptian King Tutankhamun’s head has sold for more than €5 million at an auction in London despite Egyptian authorities claiming that it may have been stolen. 

Christie’s Auction House in London listed an “Egyptian brown quartzite head of God Amen” which sold  for £4.7 million (or €5.3 million) at auction yesterday. 

The auction house described the piece as “a rare, beautiful and important work”. 

However, The Guardian reports Egyptian officials previously raised concerns that the statue, which depicts the pharaoh Tutankhamun’s head as an image of the ancient Egyptian deity Amun, was taken from the country illegally. 

“We will do our best to stop this auction immediately,” Dr Mostafa Waziri, head of Egypt’s supreme council for antiquities said before yesterday’s auction. 

“We will talk to the Egyptian foreign ministry and our ambassador in London to do our best to stop it, as we have to check.”

In a statement following the sale, the auction house said: “We recognise that historic objects can raise complex discussions about the past; yet our role today is to work to continue to provide a transparent, legitimate marketplace upholding the highest standards for the transfer of objects.

“There is an honourable market for ancient art and we believe it is in the public interest that works come out into the open with the opportunity for them to be researched, as well as seen and enjoyed by global audiences.”

Former Egyptian antiquities minister Zahi Hawass said the piece appeared to have been “stolen” in the 1970s from the Karnak Temple complex just north of Luxor.

“We think it left Egypt after 1970 because in that time other artefacts were stolen from Karnak Temple,” Hawass said.

The Egyptian foreign ministry had asked the UK’s foreign office and the UN cultural body UNSECO to step in and halt the sale.

Christie’s argued that Egypt had never before expressed the same level of concern about an item whose existence has been “well known and exhibited publicly” for many years.

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“The object is not, and has not been, the subject of an investigation,” Christie’s said.

The auction house has published a chronology of how the relic changed hands between European art dealers over the past 50 years.

Its oldest attribution from 1973-74 places it in the collection of Prince Wilhelm of Thurn and Taxi in modern-day Germany.

This account’s veracity was also called into doubt by a report from the Live Science news site last month suggesting that Wilhelm never owned the piece.

With reporting from AFP. © – AFP 2019

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