CAIRO: Two Islamic Lanterns dating from the Mamluk era (1250-1517) and reportedly stolen from the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) were accidentally monitored by a London-based Egyptian archaeologist during an attempt to sell them to an antique collector.
In a phone call with ON TV Tuesday, Doris Abouseif, former emeritus Professor at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies said that two months ago an antiquities collector, who was planning to buy Islamic antiquities from a dealer, sent her photos of four Islamic-style lanterns in order to check their authenticity before the deal was finalized.
“By viewing the lanterns, I realized that at least two of the lanterns are authentic and registered in the catalogue of the Egyptian Museum of Islamic Art (MIA),” said Abouseif, who currently lives in London.
In 1930, a Belgian archaeologist created a catalogue comprising photos and detailed background of most artifacts that were on display at the MIA, said Abouseif, adding that she has a copy of the catalogue and it shows two of the four lanterns.
One of them belonged to Sultan Hassan (1330-1365) while the other belonged to Sultan Barquq (1382–1399), according to Abouseif.
“Later, I contacted officials at the MIA who confirmed the authenticity of two of the lanterns but said they have deposited them to the NMEC in 2007 and that they are currently in the museum’s storerooms,” said Abouseif, who added that the antiquity collector decided not to buy the lanterns after he realized they were authentic.
“I was shocked when I saw pieces of art like this for sale. Thus, I decided to inform all the stakeholders in London including auction houses, archaeologists, trade antiquities and museum curators and warned them against buying the lanterns,” Abouseif added.
She contacted several stakeholders in Egypt including archaeologists, activists and officials at the NMEC who, after viewing the photos, said the two lanterns are still at the museum’s storerooms.
“They said the lanterns, currently put for sale in London, are fake,” said Abouseif.
“I am quite sure they are original. I have seen the original ones and I can confirm the photos I saw are identical to the originals,” said Abouseif, who added that she urged officials at the Antiquities Ministry to double-check the storerooms.
Two weeks ago, officials at the ministry said they would create a committee of specialists to examine the lanterns at the NMEC’s storerooms and submit a report to the ministry regarding the issue within a week, according to Abouseif.
Egypt’s political turmoil since the January 25 Revolution in 2011 and its consequent security lapse left the country’s cultural heritage vulnerable to looting. In spite of the efforts of the Egyptian government in tracking the smuggled artifacts inside Egypt and in auction houses abroad, many items remain unaccounted for.
Egypt has recovered more than 135 ancient artifacts that were to be sold in an auction houses in several countries, according to a statement released by the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities in October.