Sunday, October 16, 2011

Recovery of Looted Egyptian Tomb Reliefs Leaves Unanswered Questions

The ancient Egyptian tomb of Hetepka featured prominently in the widely publicized court cases against Frederick Schultz in the United States and Jonathan Toleley-Parry in Britain as well as in a related criminal case in Egypt. Schultz, Tokeley-Parry, Ali Farag, Toutori Farag, Andrew May, and Mark Parry were all convicted during the late 1990's and early 2000's for their roles in an international antiquities trafficking scheme. That is why Ahram Online’s October 15, 2011 report that two looted limestone reliefs from Hetepka's tomb were “newly recovered” by the Egyptian Tourism and Antiquities Police is noteworthy.

Hetepka served as a royal hairdresser during the pyramid age, and modern-day looters dismembered and destroyed his tomb located at Saqqara. Police eventually found some of the tomb artifacts in Tokeley-Perry’s possession in England, but did not recover all the items that were looted. Ahram Online’s report suggests that the newly recovered reliefs are part of the original cultural objects that went missing from the tomb.

News of the recovery raises many questions:

• On what date and under what circumstances were the reliefs found?

• What information, and from what source(s), led the Egyptian Tourism and Antiquities Police to the reliefs?

• Where exactly were the reliefs found and under what circumstances?

• Whose possession were they in?

• What other items, if any, were also found?

• How are these reliefs related to items that may have been stolen from the tomb recently. Recall that former point-man for Egyptian antiquities, Dr. Zahi Hawass, referenced the Hetepka tomb when discussing his resignation on his blog at, saying: “The group now in charge of the protection of these sites is the Tourist Police, but there are no Tourist Police to do this either. Therefore, what happens? Egyptian criminals, thieves (you know, in every revolution bad people always appear…), have begun to destroy tombs. They damaged the tomb of Hetep-ka at Saqqara . . . . They attacked a storage magazine at Saqqara and we do not yet know how many artifacts are missing . . . . People have begun to build houses and to excavate at night, everywhere, putting heritage sites all over the country at risk.”

• Ahram Online reports that the recovered Hetepka reliefs were stolen in 1986. How is this known by the news outlet, especially since prior investigative information revealed that Hetepka’s tomb had been plundered in 1991?

Ahram Online’s report is conspicuously vague. You can read the article at

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