Last month, the American University in Cairo (AUC) took the initiative of handing over some 5000 artefacts of ancient Egyptian antiquity to the Antiquities Mininstry. The artefacts had been in possession of the university since their discovery in the 1960s by expeditions in which AUC had taken part. The recent handover was applauded by archaeologists, who expressed a wish that others who were in possession of antiquities would follow AUC’s example. Commenting on the precious gift, AUC President Francis J. Ricciardone said, “though we legally possessed these artefacts and scrupulously preserved and protected them over so many years, we took the initiative to transfer these important antiquities to the Ministry of Antiquities because we felt that this should be their rightful home”.
Professor Salima Ikram, head of the Egyptology Unit at AUC explained that AUC acquired most of these artefacts during excavations in the Fustat area, specifically at Establ Antar, led by the late George Scanlon, Professor Emeritus in AUC’s Department of Arab and Islamic Civilizations. “George Scanlon’s work in Fustat was invaluable, as it set the stage for Islamic archaeology in Egypt,” Ikram said.
Mahmoud Afifi, Head of the Ancient Egyptian Sector of the Antiquities Ministry pointed out that according to the Egyptian antiquities law at the time of the findings, any artefacts unearthed at archaeological sites could be divided with foreign missions. Accordingly, AUC kept half of the artefacts it unearthed.
When the law was amended in the 1980s, the artefacts were registered as the property of the Egyptian State, but remained officially in possession of AUC.
The collection transferred to the Ministry includes artefacts that date back to the Islamic, Coptic, Pharaonic, Greek and Roman eras. It consists of a number of clay vessels of different shapes and sizes, ushabti figurines, tombstones from the Coptic era, wooden funerary masks from the Greco-Roman era and lamps with metal luster from the Islamic era.
The collection was directly transferred to the National Museum for Egyptian Civilisation, Ilham Salah, head of the Museums Sector, said. She explained that the new collection is being inspected and the items in need of restoration will be taken care of. All the items will be stored and indexed according to the material they are made of and not according to their historical era, Ms Salah explained.
The Museum Sector of the Antiquities Ministry, in collaboration with the National Museum for Egyptian Civilisation in Fustat, is in the process of forming a committee that would b responsible for selecting items from the AUC collection for display at national museums. The Antiquities Ministry is currently contemplating the possibility of putting on display the maximum number of the artefacts it has had to keep in storehouses for shortage of display space.