Stolen Treasures



When an artifact is stolen, it is separated from the archaeological and historical context that is an essential aspect of its value. The looting of Egypt's antiquities dates back to ancient times--there are now more standing obelisks in Rome than there are in Egypt. With the Napoleonic Expedition of 1799 and the subsequent publication of its massive Déscription de l'Égypte, Western fascination with ancient Egypt increased exponentially; along with this came a surge in antiquities collecting.

It was not until the 1850s, with the creation of an Egyptian antiquities service, that the hemorrhage of artifacts, from the smallest amulet to the most colossal of statues, began to slow. Since then, Egyptian antiquities laws, which have become more stringent over time, have been in place to control the unchecked flow of objects out of the country. The following are the essential elements of these laws:

Any artifact which has been duly recorded as Egypt's national property, regardless of the date of its discovery, must be regarded as such for perpetuity unless a clear record exists of its legal sale or transfer to another owner.

The permission of the Egyptian government has been required for all archaeological excavations since 1869. Illegally excavated antiquities are also to be considered Egypt's national property.

All monuments and artifacts uncovered in the country since 1983, whether or not they have been registered and under whatever circumstances they were excavated, are the undisputed property of the Egyptian government.

Despite these laws, stolen treasures continue to find their way into collections around the world, taken or traded illegally and without regard for the historical insights they might offer. Egypt's antiquities continue to suffer immeasurably at the hands of people who seek to exploit the past for their own gain. The following are some of the many objects that have been stolen from Egypt, and are now either missing or held illegally in museums and private collections around the world. If you have information on a missing artifact, please contact Dr. Zahi Hawass at:

These are some of the cases the MSA is currently pursuing:

Funerary Mask of Ka-nefer-nefer

Relief Block from the Tomb of Imep-Hor

Head of Nefertiti

Objects from the Montu Temple Precinct at Karnak

Head of Mutnodjmet