Fossend Publishing

Fossend Publishing

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Artefacts for sale to the highest bidder.

Top view of Sekhema (Photo courtesy of Christie's)

News this week that a 4000 year old Egyptian Statue has been sold at a specialist Auction at Christie’s has angered and shocked the archaeological world.

The statue of Sekhema, is a 2,700BC funerary artefact that has been in the collection at Northampton Museum since the 1800's, after being given to them by 4th Marquis of Northampton.  Local authority Northampton Council  need money to build a new £14million extension and decided that selling the statue of Sekhema would be the best way to help raise funds for the project.

There has been a huge public outcry and many have voiced their disaproval via petitions and protests, but the Council dug their heels in and ignored public opinion on the matter.  Egypt also reacted strongly and the Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty tried in vain to stop the sale, stating that it "breached museum ethics", but Northampton Council responded saying that Egypt had "no claim on the statue".  Sadly, the sale went ahead on Thursday and the statue was sold for just under £16million.  Recent press reports state that only half that amount will go to the Council, and the rest will go to Lord Northampton.  The buyer is undisclosed and no one yet knows if the statue will stay in the UK.

Many are extremely worried by this turn of events.  Others who have donated precious items to Northampton Museum are now concerned that these will also be sold off to the highest bidder for the sake of local authority upkeep.  Northampton Council have been quoted as saying that the Statue of Sekhema was put up for sale as it spent most of its time in storage and no one had ever asked for it to be put on display.

The situation is a difficult one.  Fundraising and upkeep of Museums however large or small is hard, but are Northampton Council right in selling rare and important artefacts at such an extortionate price?  And if they no longer want them, or no longer have room to display them, should they not just return them to the country of origin?  The other question is where are these items ending up?  Many believe that artefacts like the statue of Sekhema, sold at auction, will end up leaving the country to join personal collections of the elite, never to be seen again.  And if that is the case, then original purpose, a gift to the museum for the public, has been negated.  This is not what Museums were created for.  Museums are a place for protecting and conserving artefacts, a place where both the young and old alike can view them and learn from them.  

It is an issue that is now sparking a huge debate. One that I suspect will continue over time, and I do wonder how many other institutions will now try and do the same as Northampton Council just because they need a bit of extra cash. 

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