The Metropolitan Museum of Art returns coffin to Egypt

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today that it has delivered the gilded Coffin of Nedjemankh, for return to the Government of Egypt by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, after having learned the Coffin was looted from Egypt in 2011.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art returns coffin to Egypt
Gilded cartonnage coffin of Nedjemankh, ca. 150-50 BC
[Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art]

The Museum learned of the looting in recent months and has been fully cooperative with the investigation of the District Attorney’s Office. The Museum purchased the Coffin, inscribed with the name Nedjemankh, a priest of the ram-god Heryshef, in July 2017. All of the Museum’s acquisitions of ancient art undergo a rigorous vetting process in recognition of the 1970 UNESCO treaty, in adherence to the Association of Art Museum Director’s Guidelines on the Acquisition of Ancient Art and Archaeological Materials, and in compliance with federal and state laws.
Per the investigative work of the Manhattan District Attorney, the Museum has recently learned that it received a false ownership history, fraudulent statements, and fake documentation, including a forged 1971 Egyptian export license for the coffin. The Met is cooperating fully with the District Attorney’s Office, and will consider all available remedies to recoup the purchase price of the coffin.

The Met’s President and CEO, Daniel Weiss, commented: “After we learned that the Museum was a victim of fraud and unwittingly participated in the illegal trade of antiquities, we worked with the DA’s office for its return to Egypt. The nation of Egypt has been a strong partner of the Museum’s for over a century. We extend our apologies to Dr. Khaled El-Enany, Minister of Antiquities, and the people of Egypt, and our appreciation to District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr.’s office for its investigation, and now commit ourselves to identifying how justice can be served, and how we can help to deter future offenses against cultural property.”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art returns coffin to Egypt
Gilded cartonnage coffin of Nedjemankh, ca. 150-50 BC
[Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Notwithstanding the representations that the coffin had been exported from Egypt in 1971, recent evidence suggests it was looted from Egypt in 2011.  Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said, “Stewards of the world’s most important artifacts have a duty to hold their acquisitions to the highest level of scrutiny. Following my Office’s investigation, this beautiful piece of ancient Egyptian history will soon be returned to its rightful place. Our Antiquities Trafficking Unit will continue to root out stolen antiquities in our fight to stop the looting of historic sites and the trade of stolen artifacts around the world.”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today it will review and revise its acquisitions process.  Max Hollein, Director of The Met, said, “Our museum must be a leader among our peers in the respect for cultural property and in the rigor and transparency of the policy and practices that we follow. We will learn from this event—specifically I will be leading a review of our acquisitions program—to understand what more can be done to prevent such events in the future.”

The mummiform Coffin was inscribed for Nedjemankh, a high-ranking priest of the ram-headed god Heryshef of Herakleopolis. The elaborately decorated surface includes scenes and texts in thick gesso relief that were intended to protect and guide Nedjemankh on his journey from death to eternal life as a transfigured spirit. The Coffin’s exterior is sheathed in gold, which—because of its permanent nature—was associated in ancient Egypt with the gods and the divinized dead. According to ancient texts, the use of gold in the Coffin would have assisted the deceased in being reborn in the next life.

The Met took the Coffin off view this week and delivered it to the District Attorney’s Office. The Coffin has been the centerpiece of the exhibition Nedjemankh and His Gilded Coffin, which opened in July 2018 and has, to date, been viewed by 448,096 visitors. It was displayed with 70 other works from The Met collection, including an imitation leopard skin once worn by a priest and a display of funerary objects depicted in a scene on the Coffin.

Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art [February 15, 2019]



Researchers crack mystery of past maternal mortality rates

Researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) have developed the first method for determining maternal mortality rates in prehistoric populations based on archaeological records.

Researchers crack mystery of past maternal mortality rates
A female from Neolithic Vietnam (2100-1050BCE) and her unborn, full term infant in breech
[Credit: Anna Willis]

Until now there has been no way to measure how many women died in pregnancy or shortly after childbirth prior to modern record keeping.

Lead researcher Clare McFadden, a PhD Scholar with the ANU School of Archaeology and Anthropology said she hopes this new method will lead to a renewed research focus on women throughout prehistory.

«What is really exciting is that this method will open up the door to studies we never thought were possible,» Ms McFadden said.

«It helps to shift the focus of archaeology more towards women. We have a lot of work on the male experience, including warfare, but now we can look at some of the female experiences, like what it was like to be a pregnant woman and new mother throughout prehistory.»

The restriction for this field of study has always been a lack of any way to determine whether someone died from complications of childbirth based on skeletal remains.

To get around this problem, the researchers’ looked at the population age-at-death distribution and maternal mortality rates in 46 modern populations.

Researchers crack mystery of past maternal mortality rates
Lead researcher Clare McFadden, a PhD Scholar with the ANU School of Archaeology and Anthropology
[Credit: Australian National University]

«We looked at how many women were dying compared to men during the child-bearing years, to see if the difference lined up with the maternal mortality rate for that population,» she said.

«We found there was a really strong correlation, which gave us confidence that it was a good predictor of maternal mortality rates that could be applied to other populations.»

Ms McFadden said the new method had the potential to open up a range of new research topics that have never been possible until now.

«The first thing that we are doing is looking at how the health of women contributes to their risk of dying during childbirth,» she said.

«So if it’s a healthy population do we see less deaths? If a population has unexpectedly low maternal mortality rates, then we have to ask why. Did people have better skills at delivering babies? Or better care for pregnant women?»

The study from which the new research method was developed is published in the journal Current Anthropology.

Source: Australian National University [February 15, 2019]



‘Witches’ marks’ found in British cave network

Hundreds of «witches’ marks» believed to be from the 17th and 18th Centuries have been found in a limestone gorge.

'Witches' marks' found in British cave network
The «witches’ marks» are scribed into walls and ceilings of the caves, over dark holes and large crevices
[Credit: © Creswell Heritage Trust]

They were discovered at Creswell Crags, Nottinghamshire, and are believed to be the biggest concentration of protective marks found in British caves.

The «apotropaic» marks were scribed into the cave surface as they were thought to keep evil spirits coming from the underworld.

Originally thought to be graffiti, they have now been reclassified.

The discovery was made by Hayley Clark and Ed Waters from Subterranea Britannica, a charity whose members have a passion for underground space, during a cave tour.

Before then the marks had always been noticed, but dismissed as graffiti from before the caves were barred.

Alison Fearn, of Leicester University, who studied her PHD on protective marks, said: «I cannot emphasise how important this corpus of apotropaia is to graffiti research.

«I think off the top of my head, it is the largest number of examples found anywhere and in any context in the UK.»

Protection marks are most commonly found in medieval churches and houses, near the entrance points, particularly doorways, windows and fireplaces.

Creswell Crags said it was thought that the largest quantity of «witches’ marks» in British caves were the 57 found in a Somerset cave, but there are hundreds in one cave alone at Creswell.

They include the double V, which is believed to mean Virgin of Virgins, while PM is thought to reference Pace Maria.

Diagonal lines, boxes and mazes are thought to be symbols for capturing or trapping evil.

John Charlesworth, tour leader at the time of the discovery, said: «These witches’ marks were in plain sight all the time.

«Being present at the moment their true significance was revealed will stay with me forever.»

Source: BBC News Website [February 15, 2019]