An ancient Egyptian coffin lid being sold at auction in Cambridgeshire in England tomorrow should be withdrawn from sale and repatriated to Egypt, embassy officials in London have said.
They are angry that the auction company refuses to withdraw the partial sarcophagus, which dates back thousands of years.
The coffin lid was found at the home of the big game hunter and journalist Captain Sarll, who died in 1977, and it is thought he found the coffin lid in Africa and had it shipped back to Britain.
The two-metre artefact is an ancient Egyptian Ptolemaic coffin top made for “Hor, son of Wenennefer” and dating back from between 330-700 years BC, according to an initial assessment by Egyptologists at Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
If the coffin lid is from 700 BC that puts it in the Egyptian 25th dynasty, when Pharoah Shebitku was on the throne.
The artefact could belong to the time of the Nubian Pharoah Shebitku
An Egyptian embassy official told The Independent that sellers or owners of Egyptian antiquities “should have proper provenance and an export licence”.
The Ministry of Antiquities in Cairo has instructed them to try to prevent the sale from going ahead, they added.
Stephen Drake the auctioneer stands with the coffin lid
“We informed the auction house that we are keen to repatriate it to its country of origin. We wanted them to give it up voluntarily but unfortunately they refused.”
The embassy official described such items as “our treasure, part of our history and our culture” and added: “This is not a normal commodity; you have to give perspective to the cultural element here and our right to repatriate this.”
“The complexity here is that it has been out of the country for many years and the owner has passed away,” the official stressed. “It’s our assumption it might have been illegally removed from Egypt.”
The coffin lid, described by the auction house as “a very rare and unusual Egyptian antiquity” is expected to fetch several thousand pounds when it goes under the hammer on Saturday, and dozens of advance bids have already been made from all over the world.
Prospective buyers of the item are told that it is “an interesting antique” and that “inspection advised” with some “paint loss and fading… worm holes…splits, slight movement to side.”
Earlier this week, the Egyptian Embassy in London, reported the proposed sale to Scotland Yard, but it is understood that the police are powerless to act since it is a civil matter, not a criminal one.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan police’s Arts and Antiques unit, said: “This month we were informed of the planned auction of an Ancient Egyptian coffin lid at an auction house in Cambridgeshire. Having reviewed the available information, including the due diligence and information gathered by the auction house, we have found no requirement for a criminal investigation.”
Stephen Drake stands next to the sarcophagus which will go on auction tomorrow
Auctioneer Stephen Drake told the Independent that “Legally we are allowed to sell it. The vendor wants us to sell it for them and we are acting on their behalf.”
“While being sympathetic to the Egyptian embassy, it’s not our decision to put it into sale. The Egyptian government are welcome to bid for it,” he added.
But the Egyptian Embassy official ruled out such a move, as that would simply be “encouraging more people to loot items and put them on sale”.
Update: The BBC reports that the ancient Egyptian sarcophagus lid fetched £12,000 (LE140,000) at auction yesterday.
The top of the coffin, believed to be around 3,000 years old, sold for 12 times its estimate in Cambridgeshire, England.
The woman who won the bid was very happy as she thought it would cost a lot more. It is going on display in a private museum.
The coffin lid sold for LE140,000 Photo: Willingham Auctions
Photographs: David Johnson