The Egyptian head of the god Amun with features of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen. Photo courtesy Christie's.
An unknown collector has bought a sculpture of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun at Christie’s in London for just short of $6 million that is at the center of an international dispute. The controversial sale went ahead despite calls from Egypt to repatriate the 3,000-year-old artifact, and questions about its provenance.
The 11-inch-tall, brown quartzite head of the boy king portrayed as the god Amun sold last night, July 4, for £4,746,250 ($5.96 million) with fees. A small group of protesters gathered outside the auction house chanting: “Egyptian history is not for sale” as the controversial lot went under the hammer.
In an attempt to halt the auction, London-based Egyptian representatives had written to the British government, UNESCO, and Christie’s calling for the sale to be stopped, according to AFP. The Egyptian foreign ministry had also reportedly requested that all items from Egypt in Christie’s auctions this week be removed until the auction house could provide proof of “valid ownership certificates.”
When the controversy over the sale first boiled over, a spokesperson from Christie’s told artnet News: “[It] is hugely important to establish recent ownership and legal right to sell, which we have clearly done. We would not offer for sale any object where there was concern over ownership or export.” Critics have questioned its due diligence, however.
The high-profile archaeologist Zahi Hawass, who is Egypt’s former antiquities minister, has spoken out against the sale. “We think [the sculpture] left Egypt after 1970 because in that time other artifacts were stolen from Karnak Temple,” he told AFP news agency. “I don’t think Christie’s have the papers to show it left Egypt legally; it’s impossible.”