Long-lost Egyptian Carving Back on Display in Berlin

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June 1, 2017

A Berlin museum can again display a striking stone carving from ancient Egypt, after the long-thought-lost artifact has been returned.

Blue faience covers the stone, which depicts a religious scene from the time of the famed pharaoh Ramses II. Shown on the stone is Ptahmose, who was for a time the mayor of Memphis, which was for many years the capital of ancient Egypt. The scene is of Ptahmose worshiping the gods Isis and Osiris.

The stone had been in an English collection until 1910, when Berlin's Neues Museum bought it. Allied air raids during World War II damaged the museum, and the Soviet occupation didn't make museum restoration a priority. Thus, the museum did not open until 2009, after an extensive renovation had been completed. 

Meanwhile, the stone had made its way into the hands of a physicist, Samuel Abraham Goudsmit, who was originally Dutch but worked in the United States on the Manhattan Project. Records of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation say that Goudsmit obtained the carving from a private collector in Germany in 1945. Goudsmit gave the stone to the University of Michigan's Kelsey Museum of Archaeology , and it was there that a visiting scholar found a match.

Nico Staring, a visiting scholar at Michigan but a staffer at Leiden University, saw a recent photo of the carving and matched it to a historical photo of the stone from the Neues Museum. The two museums arranged a transfer, and the stone will soon be on display in Berlin.

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