Ancient Egyptian statue sold off by Northampton Council is in US, documents suggest

The statue was purhased by an anonymous buyer at auction in 2014

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The Independent Online

An ancient Egyptian statue that was sold off by a local authority for cash is now believed to be in the US. 

The Sekhemka figurine was controversially sold by Northampton Borough Council at auction for nearly £16 million in 2014, more than twice what it was expected to fetch.

Its buyer chose to remain anonymous and the final destination of the Sekhemka statue was a mystery, though rumours abounded about where it ended up.

But Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) documentation has revealed an application was made to export the statue, which was sold for £15.7 million, to America.

The export of the statue was delayed because of its historical importance and numerous experts also voiced their disapproval to it leaving to a private collector. 

As it met the Waverly Criteria - by which the DCMS uses to judge the value of historical objects - its export licence was deferred twice. However, another buyer could not be found and the licence was granted. 

Sekhemka was a court scribe and his statue is around 4,500 years old. At 75cm tall and carved from limestone, a smaller figure, believed to be Sekhemka’s wife, Sitmeret, rests by his right leg. He is holding an open scroll, which features detailed carvings of hieroglyphics. 

“I was struck by the sculpture’s presence,” wrote archaeologist Mike Pitts of the statue. “The soft, warm limestone, the extensive paint, the composition, the manner of carving and the style…make this a stunningly beautiful and moving object.” 

It was donated to the Northampton Museum by the family of a Spencer Compton, second Marquis of Northampton, in 1880, three decades after he brought it back from a trip to Egypt. The council only discovered its potential value in 2012 and made the decision to sell it less than two years later. 

Along with UK-based groups, there has been an Egyptian campaign to have the Sekhemka statue returned to the country it was made in. 

In May, Save Sekhemka Action Group UK made an appeal to the “rumoured American buyer” of the statue, asking for it to be permanently lent to the Brooklyn Museum. 

While the UK group will no longer be pursuing the return of the figurine, the Egyptian campaigners are expected to continue battling for its return.

Northampton Borough Council says the £8 million it raised from the sale of the item - the rest went to Lord Northampton and auction house Christies - will be invested in its museum and art gallery. 

But the council was widely criticised by historians and other observers for selling the artefact and the museum was also stripped of its accreditation status by Arts Council England in response to the sale - meaning it is illegible for other funding.

Earlier in October, it was revealed by the BBC that the local authority was given strong legal warnings against auctioning Sekhemka. 

“Any sale should not be financially motivated except in exceptional circumstances," the lawyers said.