In a kind of cultural patrimony twist on “You break it, you own it,” the Metropolitan Museum of Art today returned to Egypt an ancient Egyptian granite relief fragment that was identified by museum staff as part of a large shrine. The fragment, which has never been on public display at the Met, was on loan to the museum from a collector who claims to have purchased it in the 1970s. It is inscribed with the name of Amenemhat I, who ruled Egypt from 1991 B.C. to 1962 B.C.
Putting the pieces together was Dorothea Arnold, chairman of the museum’s Egyptian art department, who matched the fragment with a photo of a red granite naos, a shrine used to house a statue of a deity, that was missing a corner of its base. The chipped naos in question is located in the Ptah Temple of the Karnak complex, near Luxor. “The fragment on loan to us looked like it might fit this larger work. With my colleague Adela Oppenheim, we found a publication which set out the inscription on the naos in Karnak and we compared that inscription with the inscription on the fragment—the pieces fit together perfectly,” said Arnold in a statement issued by the museum. “We decided that, in these circumstances, the appropriate thing to do was to alert the Egyptian authorities and to make arrangements with the owner so that we could return the fragment to Egypt.” And if we know Zahi Hawass, he’ll be waiting at the Cairo airport with balloons and a cake.