A fight between the US government and the St Louis Art Museum over a death mask from ancient Egypt intensified last Wednesday as the government formally demanded the museum hand over the disputed object.
The 3 200-year-old mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer, a 19th Dynasty noblewoman, sits on display in the basement of the museum.
The federal complaint contends the mask was stolen from Egypt before the museum obtained it for $500 000 in 1998.
The complaint, which included a request for a restraining order preventing the museum from disposing of the mask during the legal proceedings, came a month after the museum sued the government to try to block the seizure of the mask.
Officials with the St. Louis Art Museum are fighting an attempt by the U.S. Attorney’s office to have an ancient mummy mask returned to Egypt, from where it was allegedly stolen decades ago.
The artifact in question is the 3,200-year-old mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer, first discovered in 1952 by an Egyptian archeologist, Mohamed Zakaria Goneim, near the step pyramid of Saqarra. The Egyptian government claims the mask was stolen after it was shipped to a Cairo museum.
Last month the St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM) sued the US government to claim ownnership of the ancient mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer. The US government yesterday sued to forfeit the mask.
Fearing that federal authorities could seize the Egyptian mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer, SLAM filed a preemptive complaint on February 15 to have a federal district court declare that the mask is the museum’s property. US Attorney Richard Callahan responded on March 16 by initiating a lawsuit against the mummy mask.
In a complaint titled United States v. Mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer, Callahan petitions a Missouri federal court for forfeiture of the ancient object pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 1595a. That statute permits officials to seize and forfeit items that have been illegally stolen, smuggled, or clandestinely imported into the United States. Callahan also asks that a restraining order be placed on the mask so that it remains available while the court case progresses.