The Saint Louis Art Museum Ka-Nefer-Nefer Egyptian Mask Saga Continues
Wed Nov 26, 2008 at 04:58:43 PM
A recent Associated Press article reports that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is now looking into the provenance of the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask, a 3,000-year-old Egyptian relic acquired in the late 1990s by the Saint Louis Art Museum.
The mask, said to date back to the Nineteenth Dynasty (1293-1185 B.C.), was unearthed early in 1952 by an up-and-coming Egyptian archaeologist named Mohammed Zakaria Goneim. It is at the center of a long-running ownership dispute between the art museum and the Egyptian government. The set-to was the topic of an in-depth Riverfront Times story by Malcolm Gay, “Out of Egypt,” published in February 2006.
Goneim announced to the world that he might have uncovered the untouched tomb of a previously unknown pharaoh named Sekhemkhet — potentially the most significant find since Howard Carter unearthed the virgin tomb of Tutankhamen 30 years before.
Among the many burials Goneim discovered atop the pyramid, one in particular caught his eye: the unmummified body of a woman, wrapped in a simple reed mat. Her remains, which dated to the Nineteenth Dynasty, were badly decomposed, but she wore an elaborate mask over her head and shoulders. Her face, covered by a thin sheet of blended copper and gold, peeked from beneath an intricate resin wig molded into plaits. The diadem that crowned her head was made of glass, as were her eyes and nipples. In each hand she held an amulet symbolizing strength and welfare; etched across her folded arms was a scene depicting the encounter between Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead, and the woman’s spiritual double in the afterlife, known as her ka.
Goneim dubbed the woman Ka-Nefer-Nefer: the Twice-Beautiful Ka.
The AP story updates the fight being waged by Zahi Hawass, secretary general for Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, against the SLAM and its current director, Brent Benjamin. In the current story, Benjamin reiterates the argument he made to Gay in 2006 — asserting that “[t]o date, we have not seen information that we believe is compelling enough to return the object.”
Counters Hawass, per the Associated Press: “This stupid man [Benjamin], he doesn’t understand the rules here.”
Archaeologist Goneim, meanwhile, never achieved the worldwide fame his discovery had augured: In 1958 he was accused of looting artifacts, and though a friend and colleague came to the rescue with exculpatory evidence, he arrived too late. On January 12, 1959, Goneim threw himself into the Nile River and drowned.