Gov’t makes last-minute attempt to prevent sale of Sekhemka statue
Northampton Sekhemka Statue - AFP/Leon Neal

CAIRO: Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh el-Damaty and the Foreign Ministry asked the Egyptian Embassy in London Sunday to take legal procedures to prevent the sale of a 4,500-year-old Egyptian statue at Christie’s Auction House scheduled for Thursday, July 10, Youm7 reported.

On April 28, Christie’s Auction House announced the Northampton Sekhemka, worth an estimated 4 million pounds–6 million pounds ($6.85 million-$10.28 million), will be offered in the Exceptional Sale in London on July 10.

In December 2013, the Northampton Borough Council voted in favor of selling the ancient Egyptian statue that had been a central piece of the town’s museum for 150 years to Christie’s to reinvest the proceeds into other cultural and heritage projects in the region, according to the Northampton Chronicle.

The painted limestone statue, measuring 30 inches high, depicts Sekhemka, a court official and scribe during the Fifth Dynasty (2400 B.C.–2300 B.C.). It probably comes from the Sakkara archaeological site, 26 kilometers south of the Giza Pyramids, director of the Antiquities Ministry’s Repatriation Department Ali Ahmed told The Cairo Post Monday.

“The statue depicts Sekhemka along with his wife sitting beside his legs,” Ahmed said.

“The statue was originally acquired by Spencer Compton, the second Marquis of Northampton during his trip to Egypt in 1849 to 1850,” former head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Abdel Halim Nour el-Din was quoted as saying by Al-Ahram.

It was given to the Northampton Museum either by the third or fourth Marquis of Northampton prior to 1880, Nour el-Din added.

The motion infuriated a wide range of people inside and outside Northampton and caused outrage among historians and Egyptologists. It also raised a number of issues about the ethical and legal questions arising from the sale of the statue.

Damaty denounced the museum’s actions to sell the statue, describing it as “incompatible” with the role of museums, Al-Ahram reported Monday.

“Museums’ roles are to work on spreading culture and human heritage, not to make money,” Damaty said.

In addition, locals from Northampton formed an action group and created a website to “save” the statue.

“No matter how worthy the cause [to sell the statue], the museum will be seen to be profiteering and this will cause loss of accreditation,” according to a statement on the Save The Sekhemka Action Group website.

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