Royal Duck Vessels from Saqqara
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Date: Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12, reign of Amenemhat III
Material: Calcite (Egyptian Alabaster)
Provenance: Pyramid Complex of Amenemhat III, Dahshur
Excavated: In March, 1979, by Dr. Dieter Arnold, German Archaeological Institute in Cairo (Exc. Nos. IV 116-117 & IV 124-125)

Status: Two vessels were returned in 2008, one by Christie's Auction House, New York, and the other by Rupert Wace Ancient Art Ltd., London. Both vessels are now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. Two additional vessels remain missing.

These two calcite vessels in the shape of trussed ducks were discovered during excavations of the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo at Dahshur in 1979. They were duly registered as property of the Egyptian Government and stored in a storeroom in Saqqara, Egypt. Sometime after their excavation, the duck-shaped vessels, along with a number of other objects (including two similar vessels) were stolen from the storeroom.

In 2006, the Metropolitan Museum of Art was offered these two vessels for sale by Christie's Auction House, New York and by Rupert Wace Ancient Art Ltd. in London. By chance, Dr. Dieter Arnold, the excavator of the vessels, who is a curator at the MMA, was given the vessels to example. Dr. Arnold declined to purchase the vessels because their provenances were incomplete and unconvincing.

However, Dr. Arnold and his assistant, Dr. Adela Oppenheim, continued to study the photographs of the objects, and realized the vessels were the same ones Dr. Arnold had excavated nearly forty years ago in Dahshur! Dr. Arnold had not immediately recognized the vessels because they had been extensively restored since illegally leaving Egypt. Dr. Arnold immediately informed Dr. Zahi Hawass and the Supreme Council of Antiquities about the vessels and a thorough investigation was initiated.

Rupert Wace Ancient Art Ltd. returned the duck in their possession to its current owner in Paris, PIASA, and informed them that the object was a stolen antiquity. In 2007, PIASA returned the vessel to the government of Egypt. Christie's removed their duck vessel from auction and turned it over to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It was also returned to Egypt in 2007.

Unfortunately, the other two offering vessels and objects stolen from the Saqqara storeroom remain missing. They remain property of the Egyptian government and should be returned by their possessors to Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

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One of the recovered duck-shaped vessels (Christies)

 
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The second of the recovered duck-shaped vessels (Rupert Wace Gallery)