Egypt's Zahi Hawass mobilises for return of artefacts from British Museum, Louvre

Nevine El-Aref , Wednesday 19 Oct 2022

Renowned Egyptologist and former minister of antiquities Zahi Hawass published on Wednesday on his website and Instagram account an international petition on Change.org calling for the return of the two iconic ancient Egyptian artefacts the Rosetta Stone, from the British Museum in London, and the Dendera Zodiac, from the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Rosetta Stone

 

 

“It was planned to ask for these two pieces in 2011 but the circumstances at that time impeded their immediate return,” Hawass said. 

He added that the two pieces left Egypt illegally and they need to be returned. 

The new state-of-the-art Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), scheduled for opening next year, is waiting for them to return home, Hawass said. 

“Returning these two iconic artefacts to Egypt would be an important acknowledgment of the commitment of Western museums to decolonise their collections and make reparations for the past,” Hawass pointed out. 

In the petition he called on the international community to demand the repatriation of the two objects and asked them to sign and share this petition. 

“We need to show that the world knows that these objects belong to Egypt. The signatories of this petition support the above-mentioned requests for repatriation. We ask that everyone who loves and appreciates ancient Egypt signs and supports us in this cause. When we can show that the entire international community knows that these objects belong in their Egyptian home, we can demand action from the museums,” the petition read. 

This is not the first time that Hawass has asked for the return of these artefacts. In 2005, when he was secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), he had said at a meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin, held at the UN cultural agency UNESCO in Paris, that Egypt has been deprived of five key items of the country’s cultural heritage and that these should be handed over to their homeland.

Hawass explained that the Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799 in the Nile Delta town of Rosetta by soldiers in Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt. In 1801, the French surrendered to Britain, and the stone fell into the hands of British officials who sent it to London. The following year, it was presented to the British Museum, where it is still the most visited exhibit.

 

Dating from 196 BCE, the stone is inscribed with a royal decree of Ptolemy V in three scripts, hieroglyphic, demotic and ancient Greek, and in 1822, this enabled French scholar Jean-François Champollion to make a breakthrough in deciphering hieroglyphics. Two modern inscriptions on the stone now record key moments in its modern history — “Captured in Egypt by the British Army in 1801” and “Presented by King George III.”


Hawass continued that the loss of the Dendera Temple Zodiac Ceiling to the Louvre Museum in Paris is felt not only for its artistic value, but also because it demonstrates what the science of astrology owed to the ancient Egyptians. 

When General Desaix, a member of Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt, set eyes on the ceiling he was so enchanted that he commissioned the artist Denon to draw it for the Déscription de L’Égypte, the record the expedition put together of its exploration of Egypt.
When French collector Sebastien Saulnier saw the Zodiac Ceiling, he decided that such a remarkable piece should belong to France. Because he did not want others to hear of his plan, he announced that he was excavating at Thebes, where he bought some mummies and antiquities to cover his tracks. 

At that time, some English visitors were also sketching at Dendera, and only after they left did Saulnier return. He and his French agent then set about removing the Ceiling of the Temple. It then arrived in Paris and was sold to King Louis XVIII for 150,000 francs.

 

 

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