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Friday, 21 January, 2000, 15:45 GMT
Ancient sculpture goes home

Ambassador with sculpture Egyptian ambassador Adel El-Gazzar admires the sculpture

The sculpted head of an Egyptian queen has been handed back to Egypt at the British Museum.

The model of Nefertari, wife of Pharaoh Rameses II, dates back to the 13th Century BC. It was smuggled into the UK 10 years ago disguised as a cheap tourist souvenir.

The damaged sculpture, known as the Meryet Head, was part of a haul taken out of Egypt by Jonathan Tokeley-Parry, a restorer who received a six year jail sentence in 1997.

A private dealer bought the head and contested the Egyptian Government's claim on the work, saying it was a fake.

Queen Nefertiti The sculpture dates back to the 13th century BC
But specialists in antiquities from the British Museum analysed the piece and certified it as genuine.

A spokeswoman for the museum said "The whole issue about whether it should be returned to Egypt was pinned on whether it was an original because its owner claimed that is was a fake. We have been able to prove that it was an original"

When the sculpture came into Britain, it was heavily painted to look like something a tourist might buy in an Egyptian market. The face had been damaged and rebuilt using stone drilled out of the head.

Illegal trade around the world

The Egyptian Ambassador Adel El-Gazzar was formally presented with the Meryet Head on Friday morning.

"The decision to return the head to Egypt represents an important victory in the ongoing fight against the illegal trade in archaeological artefacts around the world." he said.

The raiding of Egyptian tombs and pyramids is well documented but works of art continue to be looted from sites around the world.

Alexandra Smith from the National Art Loss Register, which traces stolen art, said it was very difficult to know how many artefacts have been taken recently.

Items looted before they have even been catalogued
Alexandra Smith, National Art Loss Register
She said: "Any number that you hear about, you can at least triple it.

"Things get looted from sites before they have even been catalogued, it is only if they turn up for sale and someone recognises the style that investigations can begin."

Ms Smith said South America, India and Thailand were the worst places for artefacts going missing.

"But it's still going on in Egypt" she added.

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See also:
24 Dec 99 |  Wales
Hopes for priceless relic's return
17 May 98 |  Despatches
Smuggling threatens Cambodia's heritage

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