Egyptology talk at Harvard Semitic Museum

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Kim Ryholt, director of The Papyrus Carlsberg Collection and Project, delivers a talk on the antiquities trade in Egypt.

On April 21st there was a talk at the Harvard Semitic Museum on 2 Divinity Ave about the antiquities trade in Egypt. The talk was delivered by Kim Ryholt, Professor of Egyptology and Director of The Papyrus Carlsberg Collection and Project at the University of Copenhagen.

Ryholt’s interest in Egyptology came from a college internship at the Museum of fine arts dealing with their Egyptian artifacts.

Ryholt walked listeners through decades of trade in antiquities in Egypt, starting from when there were nearly no rules to the trade and leading all the way up to when trade of Antiquities was banned in 1983. Two of the types of traders that he spoke about were the early dealers and the consular agents.

One early duo of antiquities market was a husband and wife by the name of H.O. and Jonna Lange. These two ran one of the largest businesses that traded Egyptian artifacts, and according to H.O. Lange, over half the objects they purchased to sell were stolen or acquired through unsavory means.

The consular agents were wealthy businessmen, usually not native to Egypt, who oversaw the trade of antiquities. Having this position granted diplomatic immunity, which was incredibly useful in gaining artifacts through illegal means. The position was meant to increase international trade, but generally just lined the pockets of the consular agents.

The presentation really came alive at the end during the Q&A, when Ryholt spoke on his recent time working in Egypt. He spoke to Egypt’s broken nature and how the looting situation is out of control.

“When I was last working in Egypt,” he said, “in the fall, a few policemen came in with coffins they had just confiscated from people who had plundered them. The plunderers had tried to make the coffins pretty and new by adding decorations to the ancient decorations. It was hideous.”

Harvard offers other free and public talks on ancient artifacts. For more information visit http://semiticmuseum.fas.harvard.edu/