EGYPT DEMANDS MASK BACK

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Science  02 Jun 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5778, pp. 1287d
DOI: 10.1126/science.312.5778.1287d
CREDIT: SAINT LOUIS ART MUSEUM

Egypt's chief of antiquities plans to sue the Saint Louis Art Museum in Missouri for the return of an allegedly looted funeral mask.

Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, charged last month that the 3200-year-old mask was stolen from a storage facility in the 1950s after it was uncovered in Saqqara, the ancient burial ground of kings south of Cairo. He demanded its immediate return.

Director Brent Benjamin says the museum has proper documentation from the Swiss dealer who sold it to the museum in 1998 and that the museum checked with both Interpol and the Art Loss Register to be sure the mask was legit. In a 12 May statement, Benjamin said that “although Dr. Hawass has challenged the integrity of the Saint Louis Art Museum, he has not provided conclusive evidence to support his claim.” Hawass responded that Egypt will sue for the mask's return in a St. Louis court and provide proof of ownership to Interpol. Museum officials said last week that there's no such proof in the material they've received from Hawass so far.

Hawass in recent years has been aggressive in trying to win back Egyptian treasures from abroad. He suggested earlier this year that New York City return its famous obelisk, Cleopatra's Needle, even though it was a 19th century gift from the Egyptian government.

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