Egypt’s heritage up for auction in sell-off by the American Institute for Archaeology St Louise Society Inc

Artefacts dating from the 12th dynasty, believed to be from the reign of Sesostris II (1897-1878 B.C.) have been placed up for auction at privately owned Bonhams auction house by the American Institute for Archaeology, St Louise Society Inc.

The assemblage of items was originally excavated in 1913-14 by the British School of Archaeology in Egypt from Tomb 124 at Harageh, the Fayum, near Lahun. They were then acquired by the AIA St. Louise Society Inc. in 1914 in return for their contributions in funding the research excavation.

“Provenance – Property of the Archaeological Institute of America, St. Louis Society Inc. Acquired circa 1914 in return for contributing to funding the excavation.”

The Bonhams auction house describes the assemblage as “There are no comparable assemblages of such deluxe objects known from tombs, either excavated or published, contemporary with those forming the Treasure of Harageh,”

“The Treasure is noteworthy for what appears to be the earliest attestation of actual shells in the design of Egyptian jewellery and for the unique travertine cosmetic spoon, the ankh-design of the handle of which is without parallel for the period.”


The auction is expected to raise between £80,000 – 120,000 and closes early October.

Auction lot:

• 5 banded travertine objects

• 7 silver cowrie shells

• 14 silver mounted shell pendants

• 10 silver and hardstone jewellery elements

• A unique silver bee Placing

Egypt’s heritage under the hammer is nothing new, recently Northampton Council faced widespread critism for auctioning the statue of Sekhemka for nearly £16m in order to raise funds for proposed extensions to the town’s museum. This led to Northampton Museum losing its Art Council accreditation.

The St Louise Society Inc, founded in 1906 is part of the American Institute of Archaeology and members have received the “Gold Medal” for their distinguished archaeological achievement by the Archaeological Institute of America.

Whilst it may seem surprising to see an archaeology group openly engaged in the sale of such important antiquities, it doesn’t breach the AIA charter for which they hold membership, nor break any laws.

AIA charter states “Refuse to participate in the trade in undocumented antiquities and refrain from activities that enhance the commercial value of such objects.

Undocumented antiquities are those which are not documented as belonging to a public or private collection before December 30, 1970, when the AIA Council endorsed the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Property, or which have not been excavated and exported from the country of origin in accordance with the laws of that country”

Jasmine Day, an Egyptologist & Cultural Anthropologist who first brought the auction to HeritageDaily’s attention stated: “The sale of Egyptian antiquities by organisations or institutions is a poor way to raise funds because it gives an impression that these items, however valuable at auction, are superfluous, unworthy of the institutions selling them – when in fact they are often pieces that many museums with smaller collections would like to have. Those museums are in no position to buy them, so they disappear into the private art market. The disrespect shown by some organisations to those who generously donated or diligently excavated the objects they would now sell is reprehensible.”

HeritageDaily informed the AIA, who have since released the following statement:

“The AIA has learned with the deepest concern that the AIA St. Louis Society proposes to auction certain antiquities in its possession.

The St. Louis Society has a long history within the AIA, but, at the same time, is a registered non-profit independent of the national AIA.

The national office of the AIA was not consulted prior to this decision and only became aware of the pending auction when an AIA member reported that the antiquities were being offered on an auction house website.

We are urgently investigating this matter and are working to find a solution that conforms to our firmly expressed ethical position concerning the curation of ancient artifacts for the public good.” – Read more 

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