Info needed on Egyptian statue
August 30, 2006 3:08 PM   Subscribe

How can I find out more about this Egyptian(?) statue?

The statue in question has been in our family for many years. It is clay and fragile. The head and feet are both detached. Here is a description that my late grandfather wrote:

“This figure is of Egyptian origin and came from the catacombs at Girgenti in southern Sicily. The figure is an image of the man who occupied the same Sarcophagus, and is known as the “Answerer”; it has to answer for this man at “Reveille” in “The next World”.
Similar figures are in the Egyptian Gallery of the British Museum and the age is said to be 1000-1500 B.C. about the time of Abraham.
Girgenti, formerly known as Agrigentum, was one of several places on the east and south coast of Sicily, first inhabitated (sic) by a race of people called The Sicani, (Iberians); later by the Phoenicians (1000 B.C.); then by Greek settlers, known as Sikoloits who, during the next 150 years formed extensive colonies on the east and south coast and founded the real civilization of Sicily.”

I'm looking for advice on how to get answers to these questions:

1. Is this thing legitimate?
2. Is my grandfather’s description accurate?
3. Does this have monetary or historical value? (If so, we'd like to sell it, or donate it to a museum.)
posted by langedon to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It could be an Egyptian ushabti, but the hands and head look strange to me. Do you have a closer shot of the hieroglyphs? If those are authentic, you'll need to talk to an expert.

When the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb spurred Egyptmania in the 1920s, a cottage industry of creating fake antiquities sprung up around it. They were authentically made out of authentic materials, so it takes an expert to tell the difference.
posted by headspace at 3:16 PM on August 30, 2006

You should consult a reputable art dealer, appraiser, or auction house which specializes in Egyptian art to establish its authenticity. For centuries there has been a brisk business in Egyptian art and artifact forgery.
posted by ericb at 3:17 PM on August 30, 2006

Or, what (on preview) headspace said!
posted by ericb at 3:18 PM on August 30, 2006

Here is a closer view. My Dad has it right now, so I can't immediately get a better photo.
posted by langedon at 3:28 PM on August 30, 2006

Go to antiques roadshow!

I always wanted to go, but my family only passes down crap.
posted by milarepa at 3:33 PM on August 30, 2006

Go to antiques roadshow!

...and/or to History Detectives.
posted by ericb at 3:43 PM on August 30, 2006

Similar figures are in the Egyptian Gallery of the British Museum and the age is said to be 1000-1500 B.C. about the time of Abraham.

Sorry if this is totally off, but have you tried contacting the British Museum?
posted by routergirl at 4:20 PM on August 30, 2006

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY) and the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston) do not do appraisals.

Not sure if the British Museum (London) or the Egyptian Musuem (Cairo) do them for individuals.

Another suggestion is to locate an Egyptologist or a specialist in Egyptian art at a reputable college/university who might be willing to give you an opinion.
posted by ericb at 4:27 PM on August 30, 2006

I still can't see the glyphs, but that's definitely an ushabti portraying a king wearing the atef crown of Osiris and/or Osiris himself (I can't tell if it's actually green or just looks that way online.) I'd get some good, high-res pictures and contact the British Museum, or even Zahi Hawass.

However, if it's authentic, there's a good chance that Mr. Hawass will want the piece returned to Cairo. He's Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, and a very active activist for returning antiquities to their homelands.
posted by headspace at 4:34 PM on August 30, 2006

IAAEgyptologist, although I focus on language, not art. I'm not sure whether this is authentic, but there is a cartouche at the bottom (broken in the middle) that contains the king's name. If you could get a closer picture when you get it back from your dad, I could see whether the hieroglyphics are genuine and translate it for you, which could also date the statue.

By the way, are you sure it's made out of clay? Ushabtis were often made out of faience, which is a non-clay ceramic material, or hard stone of some kind.
posted by deeparch at 4:49 PM on August 30, 2006

IANAE, but I also think this ushabti is meant to represent a king (I don't think that the crown of Osiris has the uraeus- I think the ushabti is wearing the White crown of a king of Upper Egypt). But if it's really made of clay, that pretty much rules it out as having belonged to a royal, anyway. I could be way off about any of this, but I have an ushabti and so have done a bit of reading.

Weren't the catacombs at Girgenti Christian burial places? Dunno what a sarcophagus, much less an ushabti would be doing there.

Take deeparch up on the offer. At the very least, you've got a fake but nonetheless a great family treasure.
posted by puddinghead at 5:02 PM on August 30, 2006

I'm working on getting a closer shot as we speak. We'll see what magic my dad can work with that little Minolta.

Oh, and as far as I can tell, it is a clay-like material.
posted by langedon at 5:07 PM on August 30, 2006

Sothebys will informally appraise anything as long as you email the correct department. It is no obligation but at least hint that you'd like to sell in the email.
posted by fire&wings at 5:31 PM on August 30, 2006

Sorry it took so long to get more pictures, but I've posted them now.
posted by langedon at 3:38 PM on September 1, 2006

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