Egypt retrieves stolen ancient artifact from London auction

Egypt has recovered a stolen ancient artifact that was listed for sale at a London auction house, the country’s Ministry of Antiquities has confirmed.

The section of tablet — engraved with the cartouche, or royal symbol, of King Amenhotep I, who ruled between 1514 and 1493 BCE — was stolen from the Karnak Open Air Museum in Luxor, Egypt, in 1988. It was smuggled out of the country, and ultimately put up for auction in London.

Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, director of repatriation at the Ministry of Antiquities, said in a press statement that the organization worked with Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Egyptian Embassy in London and British authorities to track down the stolen relief. They monitored the websites of international auction houses, before eventually finding the artifact for sale in the UK.

The ancient tablet was subsequently removed from sale and delivered to the London embassy in September 2018. The ministry officially announced its return to Egypt on January 8.

The tablet’s recovery comes as a dispute brews around another ancient Egyptian artifact: a casing stone from the Great Pyramid of Giza. This block of limestone, once part of the outer layer of the pyramid, will go on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh from February 23.

However, Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities has contested the legitimacy of the stone’s export, asking the museum to produce documents of ownership. The museum says the stone was extracted from Giza in the 19th century by engineer Waynman Dixon and given to Scotland’s Astronomer Royal, Charles Piazzi Smyth, who kept it in his Edinburgh home.

If it transpires that the stone was illegally removed from Egypt, Abdel-Gawad said, the ministry will take “all the necessary steps” to bring it back.