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Tina Brown:

“Sharon Waxman has written a compelling page turner about the world of antiquities and art-world skulduggery. She manages to combine rigorous, scholarly reporting with a flair for intrigue and personality that gives Loot the fast pace of a novel. I enjoyed it immensely."

Christopher Hitchens:

“Sharon Waxman’s Loot is the most instructive as well as the most intelligent (and the most entertaining) guide through the labyrinth of antiquity and the ways in which the claims of the departed intersect with the rights of the living.”

Douglas Preston, author of The Monster of Florence:

"Loot is a riveting foray into the biggest question facing museums today: who should own the great works of ancient art? Sharon Waxman is a first-rate reporter, a veritable Euphronios of words, who not only explores the legal and moral ambiguities of the conflict but brings to life the colorful -- even outrageous -- personalities facing off for a high noon showdown over some of the world’s iconic works of art. Vivid, witty, and delightful, this book will beguile any reader with an interest in art and museums."

Lucette Lagnado, author of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit:

“Sharon Waxman approaches her subject with the passion of a great journalist and the rigor of a scholar. It may never again be possible for some of us to walk down the halls of the Louvre or the British Museum or the Metropolitan without a vague sense of disquietude, a frisson of wonder about the provenance of some of their showcase works of ancient art.”

Karl E. Meyer, author of The Plundered Past and co-author of Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East:

"Sharon Waxman’s Loot is indispensable for everyone concerned with the illicit trade in smuggled antiquities. She exposes the self-serving humbug that too often afflicts both affluent possessors and righteous nationalists and shows that we all have a stake in getting an honest account of how great objects came to rest in our grandest museums."

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October 29, 2009

Speaking in San Francisco today, as Met Returns Egyptian Artifact

I'm speaking this morning at the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show, where the reigning theme is Egyptomania.

How appropriate, then, that our friend Zahi Hawass continues to raise hell.

Coda to the brouhaha with the Louvre: the French caved, gave the pieces back, but Zahi continues to bar his longtime colleague Christiane Ziegler, saying she was in charge of buying the looted art in the first place.

Message heard loud and clear over at the Met in New York: they just voluntarily bought an artifact for the purpose of returning it to Egypt, a new one upmanship in the war on looting, and a notable notch on the belt of acquisitional transparency for the new director Thomas Campbell.

Here's the AP report:


The Met returns Egyptian artifact

CAIRO — New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art will return to Egypt a fragment of an ancient pharoanic shrine it purchased from a collector, Egypt's antiquities department said Monday.

The Supreme Council of Antiquities said that a piece of a red granite shrine, known as a "naos," was purchased from an antiquities collector in New York last October so that it could be returned.

The piece arrives in Egypt Thursday, the statement said. Egle Zygas, senior press officer for the Met, confirmed the museum's decision.

SCA head Zahi Hawass hailed the Met's move as a "great deed," singling it out as the first time a museum has bought an item for the sole purpose of repatriating it.

The fragment belongs to the naos honoring the 12th Dynasty King Amenemhat I, who ruled 4,000 years ago, which is now in the Ptah temple of Karnak in Luxor.

It's the latest coup for Hawass, Egypt's assertive and media-savvy archaeologist, who has been on an international lobbying campaign to reclaim what he says are stolen Egyptian artifacts from the world's most prestigious museums.

He says so far he has recovered 5,000 artifacts since becoming antiquities head in 2002.

In early October, Hawass compelled the Louvre to return five painted wall fragments of a 3,200 year-old nobleman's tomb by publicly cutting ties with the French museum, suspending its excavations in the country and canceling a lecture by one of its former Egyptology department curators, Christiane Ziegler.

After France's Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand agreed to return the fragments, Hawass restored the Louvre's excavations but has continued to shun Ziegler, whom he claims is responsible for acquiring the artifacts in the first place.

Though the Met did not openly say its decision was prompted by the Louvre's, Hawass interpreted it as the Met's devotion to return illegal antiquities.

"It is also a kind gesture from the newly appointed Met director Thomas Campbell," he said.

Before taking on the Louvre, Hawass cut ties with the St. Louis Art Museum after it failed to answer his demand to return a 3,200-year-old golden burial mask of a noblewoman.

Hawass has a laundry list of Egypt's cultural heritage that he wants back, including the bust of Nefertiti — wife of the famed monotheistic Pharaoh Akhenaten — and the Rosetta Stone, a basalt slab with an inscription that was the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The bust is in Berlin, the stone in London.


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