France returns wall paintings sought by Egypt

AP News
Posted: Dec 14, 2009 12:03 PM

Fragments of an ancient wall painting that caused a feud between Egypt and the Louvre Museum are heading home.

France returned the ancient artwork to Egyptian officials after President Hosni Mubarak inspected one of the fragments following a visit with his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy. The pockmarked slab in sepia and blue tones, from a 3,200-year-old tomb near the ancient temple city of Luxor, shows an offering from a nobleman to a servant.

Egypt's antiquities czar Zahi Hawass cut ties with the Louvre in October, saying the famed Paris museum had refused to return the fragments. Egyptian officials said the artifacts had been stolen in the 1980s _ chipped from the tomb's walls.

French officials quickly agreed to hand over the fragments following a recommendation by scientific experts.

France said the works had been acquired by the Louvre "in good faith" in 2000 and 2003, but doubts emerged last year about whether the pieces had been taken from Egypt illegally years before.

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand said in a statement that the handover "is testament to France's desire to ... fight against the illegal trafficking of cultural goods, which France is itself a victim of, as well as the excellence of French-Egyptian cooperation in the realm of archaeology."

Christiane Ziegler, a former curator of the Louvre's Egyptology department, said the spat could have been resolved with fewer fireworks.

"This was much ado about not very much," said Ziegler, who was briefly barred from lecturing in Egypt during the feud.

Hawass, Egypt's chief archaeologist, is leading aggressive efforts to reclaim what he says are antiquities stolen from the country and purchased by leading world museums. The move against the Louvre was one of the biggest moves yet in his efforts.