The head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, took a bold move yesterday in his on going struggle to get foreign museums to return antiquities taken from that country illegally. Hawass severed all ties with France’s the Louvre over that museum’s refusal to return fragments of 3200-year old painted wall frescoes that were taken from the Tomb of Tetaki in the Valley of the Kings back in the 1980’s.
According to this story, this isn’t the first time Hawass has taken steps to close relations with a museum. He made a similar move with the St. Louis Art Museum over a golden burial mask that that museum has refused to return as well. This is, however, the first time that such a move has been taken against a museum of the incredible stature of the Louvre. Upon alerting officials at the museum of his actions, Hawass also suspended an archeological excavation being conducted under the direction of the Louvre, in Saqqara and canceled a scheduled lecture by former curator Christiane Ziegler, who was in charge of the Egyptology department while employed there.
A response from the Louvre and the French Cultural Ministry was swift in coming. Both said that they were interested in putting this incident behind them by returning the disputed pieces, indicating that Hawass’ decision to play hardball was already paying dividends. When these pieces are returned, they’ll join more than other artifacts that he has recovered since taking office in 2002.