When one thinks of Egyptian antiquities today, flashing images of Indiana Jones's exotic and adventurous archaeological digs and old Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney films suddenly come to mind. It is this inherent mystery and intrigue associated with the antiquities of Ancient Egypt which make this trade dispute so interesting and unique. The case study will focus on the current dispute between Great Britain and Egypt over the ownership of Egyptian artifacts removed from Egypt in the late 19th century, now housed in the world renowned British Museum. Although the moral and ethical arguments include all Egyptian artifacts, the specific artifacts under current dispute include the 'best' of what has been removed from Egypt, items which symbolize the national identity and cultural heritage of Egypt; the Rosetta Stone, the Sphinx's beard, and the multitude of mummies. This case will include a historical overview of the artifacts under discussion and the arguments of both Egypt and Great Britain regarding their right to ownership. Other issues that will be explored include the claim to ownership of antiquity and the modern day interpretation of ownership based on cultural property rights, intellectual property rights and the impact of ownership on modern domestic economies.
During antiquity, the great tombs of Egypt were looted and pillaged of their treasured artifacts by adventurers and archaeologists acting on behalf of 'science'. The area of Ancient Thebes, specifically, the Valley of the Kings (the burial site for almost all pharaohs 1539-1075 BC), Luxor, the Valley of the Queens, and Karnakare, were the most prosperous of such treasures, and the greatest target. Due to the cultural importance of Ancient Thebes, UNESCO designated it an official World Heritage site in 1979.(2) The implications of these illicit acts in the 19th century is the basis for this case. The international community is struggling to interpret ownership rights in modern day based on actions which took place prior to the existence of international law protecting these treasures. The decision by the international community is a serious one as it will set a precendent in determining resolutions for future disputes. As globalization continues to have an impact on cultures and national identities worldwide, disputes such as this will become even greater in number.
The Rosetta Stone
Of the great number of stolen treasures, the Rosetta Stone, the Sphinx's beard, and the multitude of mummies, all housed at the British Museum, are at the forefront of the dispute. The Rosetta Stone is considered not only one of Egypt's cultural icons, but one of the world's cultural icons, as well. The Rosetta stone was discovered by Napoleon's French troops occupying Egyptian territory in August of 1799, 35 miles northeast of Alexandria. Following the French surrender to Great Britain in 1801 with the Treaty of Alexandria, British Officials took ownership of the stone and sent it to the British Museum in London, where it still stands today. The Rosetta Stone is significant in the respect that it provided the key to unlocking the meaning of Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. The slab of black basalt was inscribed by the priests of Memphis, a town south of Cairo, as homage to King Ptolemy Epiphanes to mark his accession to the Egyptian throne. The text is written three times in three different languages. The first is in hieroglyphics, the second was written in the Egyptian language called Demotic (a language displaced by Greek during the Ptolemaic period 304-30 BC), and the third was in Greek, the official langage of Egypt in 196 B.C.(3) Western scholars knew Greek and were therefore able to decipher the language of Pharaonic hieroglyphics, providing a firm foundation for the study of Egyptology. The Rosetta Stone has been at the center of the dispute between Great Britain and Egypt. Egypt views the Rosetta Stone as their national treasure and representative of their cultural heritage.
The Sphinx's Beard
The Sphinx is massive at 20 meters tall and 57 meters long, representing King Khafre with a lion's body and a pharaoh's head. The Sphinx is well-known throughout the world as a symbol of Ancient Egypt. The powerful statue faces eastwards and guards the Giza Necropolis. Archaeologists believe the beard of the Sphinx fell off naturally sometime during the 14th century. One three foot fragment of the giant's royal headdress, was discovered accidently by Italian, Giovanni Caviglia in 1816 and later sold to the British Museum in 1818. One of the main issues of significance is the fact that the beard is the primary support for the neck of the 4,600 year old Sphinx (lion-man)and is desperately needed to save the condition of the Sphinx. Egypt completed a 10 year resotration project on the Sphinx in May of 1998; the return of the beard is the last step for the complete restoration of this national treasure. One should also note that the Sphinx's beard is not on exhibit at the Museum, it has been stored in the basement of the British Museum for 160 years; a disembodied lump in the study collection. Although Great Britain has offered to loan the fragment with periodic reviews, in exchange they want to borrow the body of a jackal-faced god for which it has the sculptured head. Egypt continues to firmly state they want the permanent title of the beard.(4) The very fact that fragments are under dispute and being 'bartered' is quite distressing. One would think items of antiquity would be treated with enough respect by the international community that an attempt would be made to keep them intact, rather than negotiating modern day 'shares' of the cultural artifact.
Mummies add a greater complexity to this case. The arguments for the return of the Rosetta Stone and the Shinx's beard center on issues such as cultural property rights and a claim to cultural heritage. Although both of these issues also apply to mummies, issues of intellectual property rights in respect to not only the mummies themselves, but also in reference to the knowledge derived from the research and study of the mummies are central factors. Issues of ethical treatment of mummies, a buried, entombed body also come to light. This case will begin its analysis of the Egyptian mummy as a cultural artifact by first briefly outlining the mummification process.
The Mummification Process
Due to the cost of the mummification process, only royalty and animals/objects viewed as sacred were mummified. It is believed the process began in during the Historical Period of Egypt, 3000BC. The procedure of mummification, performed by special priests, essentially consists of removing all internal organs, in addition to removing all moisture from the body with salt packets. Once the body was properly treated with resin, it was wrapped it in linen bandages. Throughout the process of mummification, the priest would perform religious rituals and prayers for the body. Once the body was completely prepared for burial in the tomb, the organs, now in canopic jars, would be placed in the tomb as well as other items such as food and furniture the mummy would need in the afterlife.(5) Relevant case: Cedar.
Modern Day Fascination with Mummies
Egyptian mummies and ancient Egyptian culture have been a source of great mystery and fascination to the Western world. The fact that a mummified body and its spirit (ka, ba, and akh) was believed to have the ability to fly out of the tomb and return to it is also somewhat frightening to some. The American film industry profited from this fear in the early 1930's and 1940's with films such as Boris Karloff's "The Mummy" in which an Egyptian mummy visits an ancient curse upon the desecrators of his tomb.(6) Lon Chaney quickly followed with a series of horror films and such as the 1942 film, "The Mummy's Tomb", one of four movies to feature Kharis, the mummy who seeks revenge upon the desecrators of his Egyptian tomb and occasionally stopping to pick up a beautiful youn woman or two along the way.(7) Recent adaptations to this theme are Indiana Jones in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "The Last Crusade" in the 1980's featuring Harrison Ford, and the 1999 remake of "The Mummy" with Brenden Fraser. Modern society continues to be intrigued by Ancient Egypt and their lore of lost cities, curses, and pharoah's revenge.
Issues at Hand
A great number of mummies were removed from their ancient burial grounds in the Nile River Valley during the time of anquity. Although Ancient Egyptian mummies are on display in museums across the world, the British Museum in London holds the second largest collection next to the National Museum in Cairo. It claims to be the center for Egyptology for the world. This is where another factor of the dispute lies. The mummies are the ever-popular centerpiece of the museum's vast Egyptian collection, recently given greater prominence with the opening of the Roxie Walker galleries of Egyptian funerary archaeology in May of 1999. The galleries offer the world's most comprehensive display of mummification, providing important source materials for research, in addition to drawing large crowds for the Museum.(8)
Issues of Intellectual Property Rights in relation to the scientific study of ancient Egytian artifacts are quite controversial. According to the British Museum, of their collection of 100,000 objects, only 5% are on display in the Museum's Egyptian Galleries. The remaining objects in the collection are held as their 'study collection' for scholars.(9) Research groups in Britain are using X-Ray Computer Tomography techniques to study Egyptian mummies from the British Museum in developing 3-D images of the mummies and other artifacts inside the unopened tomb. Additionally, the British Museum recently gave a group of scientists 500 milligrams of solid bone from a a mummy's torso, for molecular study which led to a discovery of azinc enzyme still active in the 2,300 year old mummy.(10) Scientists are using mummies increasingly in the study of genetics and disease. An important item to note in this development and evidence of Britain as a leader in this endeavor is the recent establishment of the world's first Mummy Tissue Bank.(11) Who should own the rights to this knowledge? With the rapid increase in technology, it can be argued that there needs to be regulations in place to protect artifacts that are being used for science. Issues such as these are quite controversial and merit greater attention and further study.
Other recent developments which involve potential intellectual property rights include the recently launched Ancient Egypt web site by the British Museum at www.ancientegypt.co.uk.(12)." The first site contains more than 1,000 pages of information based on the museum's collection of artefacts, which include the world famous Rosetta Stone, a chunk of pyramid and, of course, lots of mummies."(13) Does Great Britain have the right to establish a web site highlighting Egyptian treasures? The claim to ownership of Egyptian artifacts clearly does not end with strictly physical ownership, but also permeates into new realms such as the Internet, etc.
Lastly, the issue of ancient mummies in regard to their essential existence - a buried, entombed, human body, raises the ethical questions. The right of the dead to remain in the state of burial is of central importance. Museums around the world have become increasingly sensitive about the display of human remains. Archaeologists have become interested in this development as well, with the discovery of the Kennewick Man. The skeleton body has been impounded in a vault, denied to researchers due to a claim by Native Americans in the United States based on US Federal Law, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.(14) US Native Americans have had an impact on numerous museum tours which exhibit human skeletal remains. Due to their beliefs and legal support of NAGPRA, they have been able to prevent museums from including human remains in their exhibits in areas in the United States. The British Museum has had no qualms about the display of human remains in their Egyptian collection, citing 'Ginger' as one of their star pieces.(15) Relevant cases: Artifact, Body, Kidney
The Claim to Ownership
The right of nations to claim cultural property rights on the basis of cultural heritage is one under much controversy in the international community. There has been a consensus on how to handle World War II disputes, but there remains much disagreement as the handling the issues which are a result of pre-World War II Imperialism. Many archaeologists argue that an ancient object taken from its context loses most of its meaning. This view supports the argument of governments, such as Egypt, that are claiming a right to their cultural artifacts removed from their territory. The artifacts symbolize the national identity and cultural heritage of Egypt. However, a formal legal legal agreement that enforces this stance for the times of antiquity does not currently exist. The question at hand is whether or not current international legal agreements can be applied retroactively. It should be noted that, one could argue that current international law and norms have developed into customary international law which could then be used on a retroactive basis. Currently, legal protection for cultural heritage and cultural property centers around the UNESCO legal instruments and national law, which are explored further in the legal cluster.
International law protecting cultural heritage has strong support from many non-Western countries, such as Egypt, Greece, Turkey, and Mexico. However, they have little support from Western states such as Great Britain as they fear that returning items to the country of origin would set precedents and empty the world's museums. "It would be a disaster for the world if only collections of one culture were available in that one country...", Britain's arts minister, Paul Channon.(16) Great Britain feels that they obtained these artifacts legally 'for the times' and should therefore retain ownership rights. Additionally, they feel state they are promoting Egyptian culture by including Egyptian artifacts and mummies in their exhibits. Great Britain is on the defensive as many of the objects in their museum were obtained during times of Imperialism. The case at hand and similar cases, such as the Elgin Marbles, Monument case, the current debate with Great Britain and Greece, illustrate the growing tension on the issue. "You get your marbles back, then others will want their marbles back", British Museum Director David Wilson.(17)
Key Word Clusters: Habitat, Rights, Intellectual Property, Culture, Dry
Legal Support for Egypt's Claim to Ownership
1. United Nations Charter and UNESCO Constitution both state per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 27), "Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in the scientific advancement of its benefits. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary, or artistic production of which he is the author"(18)
2. The Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of an Armed Conflict (The Hague Convention), 1954. The Convention was adopted together with the Protocol which prohibits the export of cultural property from occupied territory and requires the return of such property to the territory of the state from which it was removed. The Protocol also expressly forbids the appropriation of cultural property as a war reparation. The Hague Convention specifically covers immovables and movables, including monuments of architecture, art, or history, archaeological sites, works of art, manuscripts, books, and other objects of artistic, historical or archaeological interest, as well. It is also noted that protection is present not only in time of hostility, but also in time of peace.(19)
3. UNESCO Recommendation on International Principles Applicable to Archaeological Excavations, 12/5/56. The Recommendation is in regard to trade in Antiquities stating that, "Foreign museums should, in order to fulfill their scientific and educational aims, be able to acquire objects which have been released from any restrictions due to the laws in force in the country of origin." Additionally, regarding the return of objects to their country of origin, "Excavation services and museums should lend one another assistance in order to ensure or facilitate the recovery of objects derived from clandestine excavations or theft, and of all objects exported in infringement of the legistlation of te country of origin." Finally, in regard to excavations in occupied territory, "In the event of an armed conflict, an Member State occupying the territory of another State should refrain from carrying out archaeological excavations in occupied territory. In the event of chance finds being made, particularly of military works, the occupying Power should take all possible measures to protect these finds which should be handed over on the termination of hostilities."(20)
4. Unidroit Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, 6/24/95. The Convention states that the "Possessor of a cultural object which has been been stolen, shall return it to the country of origin." Additionally, "A cultural object which has been unlawfully excavated or lawfully excavated but unlawfully retained shall be considered stolen, when consistent with the law of the state where the excavation took place." The Convention itself does not contain an enforcement mechanism, but promotes the negotiation process between the two parties and development of bilateral agreements to resolve the dispute.(21) One should note that Great Britain has not signed this agreement.
The UNESCO Restitution and Return Committee, an intergovernmental committee for promoting the return of cultural property to its country of origin or its restitution in cases of illicit appropriation, made recommendations concerning cultural property rights and current disputes in their most recent report, September 1999. The first of these recommendations states the Committee is "Expressing concern for the Resolution of the issue of the Parthenon Marbles" between Great Britain and Greece. The second recommendation states the Committee "Expresses its hope that the pending Turkish request with regard to the Sphinx will be solved through bilateral negotiations."(22) There is potential that decisions made in this arena and recommendations made by the Committee could be used as precendent cases for other disputes.
Legal Support for Great Britain's Claim to Ownership:
1. UNESCO Declaration of the Principles of International Cultural Cooperation, 11/4/66. The Declaration states that, "International cultural cooperation shall cover all aspects of intelletual creation activities relating to education, science and culture." Additionally, it promotes the effort, "to enable everyone to have access to knowledge, to enjoy the arts and literature of all peoples, to share in the advances made in science in all parts of the world and in the resulting benefits and to contribute to teh enrichment of cultural life."(23)
2. UNESCO Recommendation on Participation by the People at Large in Cultural Life and their Contribution to it, 11/26/76. The Recommendation states that there should be "free democratic access to culture of the people at large." It further states that States should "promote development and dissemination of national cultures...to make cultural achievement better known."(24)
The combination of these two UNESCO Agreements are srong support for Great Britain. They support Great Britain's claim that their ownership and exhibitions of Egyptian artifacts are promoting the study of Egyptology and providing greater access of Egyptian culture to the world.
Intellectual Property Rights:
The 1971 Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the TRIPS Agreement, and the WIPO Agreement on the International Protection of Copyright and Neighboring Rights: All define artistic works in regard to intellectual property rights as "whether two-dimensional (drawings, paintings, etchings, lithograhs, etc.) or three-dimensional (sculptures, architectural works), irrespective of their content (representational or abstract) and destination ("pure art, for advertisement, etc.).(25) The Rosetta Stone and the Sphinx's beard would both fall in line with the above definition. However, the possible application of mummies and Egyptian culture are questionable and not yet defined. This is an issue that merits further research and study.
a. Geographic Domain: Mideast
b. Geographic Site: Mideast Africa
c. Geographic Impact: Egypt
a. Directly Related to Product: YES, Artifacts
b. Indirectly Related to Product: YES, Tourism Revenue
c. Not Related to Product: NO
d. Related to Process: YES, Morals
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