Archeology experts lead condemnation of Sekhamka statue sale as temporary export ban runs out

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Sekhemka statue ENGNNL00120130716121924
  • Temporary export ban preventing the statue sold by Northampton Borough Council from leaving the country has expired
  • Leading archaeology experts write to Guardian newspaper to condemn the sale and call for a review in legislation
  • Save Sekhemka Group had called on Prime Minister to intervene to stop statue leaving the country

Three leading archaeology experts have written to a national newspaper to condemn the sale of Sekhemka as the order banning the export of the controversial statue ran out.

Pro Professor Stephen Quirke and Dr Richard Bussmann from UCL Institute of Archaeology and Dr Alice Stevenson UCL Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology wrote a letter to the Guardian said the statue should never have been sold and called for changes in legislation to prevent it happening again.

The statue was sold by Northampton Borough Council at auction in July last year for more than £16 million. The money was split between the council and Lord Northampton. The borough says it will be using its portion to fund an expansion of Northampton’s Museum and Art Gallery.

The statue of the Egyptian official, Sekhemka, which dates back to c. 2,400 BC was sold to an overseas buyer, but the Chronicle & Echo reported in March this year that the culture minister Ed Vaizey had put a temporary export bar on the statue so that it could not be moved abroad.

The order ran out yesterday and would only have been extended if another buyer had expressed serious intention to raise the recommended £15,732,600 (plus VAT) to buy the statue. It is understood no such intention has been made.

Writing in the Guardian, the archaeology experts claimed archival research “may yet reveal that the sale contravenes international law”.

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“Stewardship of collections entails responsibilities and obligations of trust. The sale destroyed public trust in the borough council: Northampton Museum was stripped of its official museum accreditation and barred from public funding in an impressive display of unity by the Museums Association, Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund. Nevertheless, the sale tarnishes the international reputation of the country and its museums,” they said.

“Despite the heroic efforts of the Save Sekhemka Action Group, the government export bar expires today. In the museum, the statue was safe under national law: it is about to leave the protection of a public museum and enter private hands without legal safeguards. We may never see it again,” they added.

The letter called for a change in legislation to stop local authorities acting in the same way again.

“Can the public, museums and media act on these issues? Or must we prepare for further losses from our public collections?” they said.

The Save Sekhemka Group issues a last-minute plea last week for Prime Minister David Cameron to intervene and stop the statue going abroad.

Writing on its blog, the group said; “it is still not too late for you to turn Britain’s shame in being party to such an unethical sale into pride at Britain working with the Egyptian people to make amends for this indelible stain on Britain’s cultural reputation.

“We are asking you to make an urgent public intervention with Christie’s and the buyer of the Sekhemka statue and ask the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to broker a binding agreement whereby the statue remains in the UK on free public display in a British museum.”

Following the sale, Arts Council England withdrew its accreditation from the borough council and the decision was condemned by the Museums Association.

Earlier this month, the borough council revealed how the Sekhemka money was going to be spent.

It is currently in the process of procuring the old Gaol Block from Northamptonshire County Council for £900,000. The council will then spend a further £6.8 million during the next four years on the museum, expansion, including £150,000 in 2015/16, £645,000 in 2016/17, £5.775 million in 2017/18 and £229,500 in 2018/19.

Councillor Mary Markham, leader of Northampton Borough Council, said: “The report shows how we are investing the money that has been ring-fenced from the sale of Sekhemka. The expansion of the museum is set to be another exciting Northampton Alive project that enhances our town’s Cultural Quarter.”