Tutankhamun statue sells for almost $6M despite Egyptian outcry

Written by By Amy WoodyattJack Guy, CNNLondon

An Egyptian statue resembling the pharaoh Tutankhamun has been sold for £4.7 million ($5.97 million) at a London auction, despite protests from Cairo that the relic may have been stolen.
The 11-inch statue with features reminiscent of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun was sold by Christie’s, the auction house said on Thursday. The identity of the buyer was not revealed.

The sale of the artifact has been highly controversial, with Egyptian authorities demanding the auction be canceled and calling for the statute’s repatriation.

Christie's has defended the sale.

Christie’s has defended the sale. Credit: Christies

In June, Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities appealed to Christie’s and UNESCO to halt the sale, and asked to see documents proving the item’s provenance, according to a statement from the ministry.

Officials from the Egyptian embassy in London asked the UK Foreign Office to return the statue.

“Once again, we will not be negligent or allow anybody to sell any Egyptian artifact whatsoever,” a statement from Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities released in June read.

On Wednesday, the embassy said in a statement that it “regrets” the decision to go ahead with the auction.

According to Christie’s, the statue is “a remarkable representation of the young king” Tutankhamun.

After becoming pharoah at the age of 9, Tutankhamun reigned until his death at 19, from around 1333 B.C. until around 1323 B.C. His tomb, in the Valley of Kings across the Nile River from Luxor, is famous for having been discovered relatively intact, containing thousands of impressive relics and artifacts.

The statue is said to have features reminiscent of Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

The statue is said to have features reminiscent of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Credit: Christies

Christie’s said the statue “is not, and has not been, the subject of an investigation,” and added that Egyptian authorities had not previously expressed concern about the object, despite it being well known and publicly exhibited.

The British auction house moved to assuage worries over the ownership of the statue, insisting that “while ancient objects by their nature cannot be traced over millennia, Christie’s has clearly carried out extensive due diligence verifying the provenance and legal title of this object.”

“Christie’s would not and do not sell any work where there isn’t clear title of ownership and a thorough understanding of modern provenance,” it added in a statement to CNN.

In a press release on the auction, Christie’s said the statue was acquired from Munich-based dealer Heinz Herzer in 1985, and was previously owned by Joseph Messina and Prinz Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis.

“This is a black day for archaeology, because Tutankhamun is the king of the kings,” said Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s former Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs. “The whole world has to be angry, because there is no ethics here.”

Hawass told CNN he believed the piece left Egypt “illegally.”

“This piece has to be in a museum, not to be in a dark room of a rich man,” he added.

The controversy is the latest attempt in Egypt’s ongoing struggle to prevent the sale of stolen artifacts and bring them back to the country.

In January, a section of a tablet that was stolen from the Karnak Open Air Museum in Luxor in 1988 was successfully recovered and returned to Egypt after being listed for auction in London. The Ministry of Antiquities had been monitoring international auction houses for the artifact.

CNN’s Sarah El Sirgany, Nada Altaher, Nada Bashir and Claudia Rebaza contributed to this report.

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