Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Last Word

Egyptian antiquities in international museums amount to millions, with hundreds of thousands in the major museums in France, Italy, Germany, US, Austria and UK. Many were obtained years ago by buying from private sources or through the permit system. In Budge’s time collectors from many different Museums came to Egypt to collect legally or illegally and they wouldn’t take no for an answer. And it was easy. As in Budge’s case, if they couldn’t find what they wanted in the villages or in unofficial ‘digs’, they could simply buy it right off the shelf in local antique shops, which at that time were bulging with real antiquities. If they had problems getting things out of the country they simply used their Consuls, or local agents of their Consuls, to smooth the way diplomatically.

Sir Evelyn Baring the British Consul was of a different cut than the Consuls of other countries. He was determined that his countrymen would abide by the regulations and pay strict attention to the wishes of the Egyptian Antiquities Service. Baring’s goal was to show the Egyptians what “order and good government” could achieve. And the British were to be the proper model to follow, that is, until he met Budge.
Perhaps Baring would have gotten on better with Budge’s predecessor, Samuel Birch, a scholar who seldom traveled and never went to Egypt, instead he encouraged Egypt to come to him. Hundreds of people brought him coins, scarabs and other souvenirs of their trips out to Egypt to find out what they were. In the process Birch built up a historical framework without acquiring any large collection, and he encouraged people like Petrie to make drawings and impressions of monuments and bring back the small bits, like pottery shards, but major pieces stayed in place in the country. Budge, however was obsessive, he wanted it all.
Looking back on his second trip to Egypt, I realized that all we have to go by is his own account in his 1920 autobiography, "By Nile and Tigris," in which Budge comes off like the guardian angel of antiquities. But I wonder if we are being setup. There were too many coincidences, too many things that stand out, local dealers and agents, contacts in shipping, telegraphic ‘back channels,’ military and the media, diversionary stories, stealth, safe houses, military transport and cover to conceal “...our operations...”!

A docudrama called “The Egyptian Book of the Dead” produced for TV in 2005 by the History Channel featured Budge’s theft of the Papyrus of Ani. In it Budge is portrayed as someone who improvises and succeeds by chance, someone who muddles through. But as I look back on what he did, it all reads like a well-planned, covert operation, premeditated and carried out with precision. The only hitch was the impoundment of the booty in Luxor. That required a tunnel to be dug by his cohorts in crime into the basement to retrieve it, like something from The Great Escape, with Steve McQueen and James Garner sitting at the bar of the Luxor Hotel making believe nothing is happening as they, along with the Stalag guards, ignore the obvious sounds of shovels digging under their feet!

Is it no wonder that Budge was later suspected of spying for the British Army in the Sudan. No doubt when he was there carried out excavations he was able to provide a wealth of information under cover of his civilian archeologist status. Remember Colin Firth in The English Patient.
So now he goes off to Baghdad and later comes back to London and glory, and as for the Egyptians, well, if we go by Budge’s account, they got what they deserved. End of story.

But it didn’t end there. Budge boasted about his success, “...and all Luxor rejoiced,” and he also went out of his way to let everyone know that his actions would result in careful and reverent attention being paid to the objects that he had acquired using dubious and illegal methods. He also maintained to the end that he had done no more than what was needed, according to him any and all archeologists would do the same. “The outcry against the archeologists is foolish,” he says, “and the accusations made against him are absurd.” But, as Brian Fagan noted in his book, Rape of the Nile, “Budge flattered himself that he had the moral right on his side and that looting Egyptian sites was entirely legitimate.”

In most cases when Budge was buying things, he never bothered to question the ownership, or determine if they were original finds by the owner of the land or legally bought second-hand or even stolen goods. In one case it is certain that he went ahead and bought an item knowing that it was stolen property. Budge’s methods are clear examples of what Brian Fagan in 1975 called “models of illegal purchase.”

Legal title was the last thing on Budge’s mind. He was more worried about moving the items out of Egypt using his own carefully crafted methods. In the case of the Papyrus of Ani, however, he became involved in things that were completely different from anything he had done previously. Though bought from a local dealer, the Papyrus of Ani was confiscated by the police and thereby became official evidence, so when Budge removed it from a locked basement with the clear intent of smuggling it out of the country, he compounded the crime which was clearly one of theft. He tried to justify his action by bringing support to bear from a third party, into whose mouth he puts what seems like a bit of creative non-fiction.

“I think I can help you, and I will. As you have bought these things which you say are so valuable for the British Museum, and they are to be paid for with public money, they are clearly the property of the British Government, and they must be put into a place of safety as soon as possible.”

It is difficult to think that anyone like Major Hepper would be so unfortunate as to have to speak like that. It sounds very much like he had training in what the Voice of America used to call, “Special English.” The dialogue is just too unreal, even for Budge.
Worse was yet to come. After his first few trips, Customs officers routinely searched him and his luggage whenever he left Egypt. From his own admission Budge had no qualms about cutting up priceless papyri, such as the Aristotle’s Constitution of Athens and the Odes of Bacchylides in order to send them by mail to avoid the law. He cut both priceless documents into sections in order to place them between layers of photographs, and then mailed them after he wrapped them in gaudy colored paper “which the Cairo shopkeepers used for wrapping up the purchases of customers.”

When he “acquired” larger papyri they were cut by Museum staff under his supervision. In1893, Mr. H. Spencer, for example, reported that he had unrolled a total of 400 papyrus rolls in the Museum’s collection, including the Papyrus of Ani, for the purpose of cutting them up and mounting them behind glass. In the 2005 History Channel docudrama, following a scene worthy of Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands, James Wasserman notes that Budge unfortunately had the original papyrus cut using the basic “yardstick” method – dividing it into thirty-seven sheets of relatively even length. “The result was to disfigure the flow of the original scroll.”

Carol Andrews in the preface to James Wasserman’s 1994 book The Egyptian Book of the Dead, said, “...the original papyrus roll...for the sake of convenience of storage and display was divided into thirty-seven framed and glassed sheets, varying in length from 52 cm to 76 cm, the norm being between 65 cm and 70 cm. Budge was sometimes influenced in cutting the roll by what he considered a natural break in the frieze of vignettes – even if this led to the text of a chapter being on different sheets. At other times the layout of the text was considered of greater importance, and as a result vignettes have been segmented, some even separated from their relevant chapter. Moreover, as the divisions progressed there came points where, unless the sheets produced were to be abnormally short or long, large-scale vignettes were cut in two.”

She then detailed fifteen of the most damaging examples of this process, a process that was described by James Wasserman in the docudrama as follows, “When he got it back to the British Museum, he cut it into sections that he could work with. He arranged to have it pasted to wooden boards so that it could be translated. From a technological point of view one can almost forgive him, but, on the other hand, he destroyed the integrity of the papyrus forever.”

It’s often said in Budgie’s defense that he wasn’t alone. Many others were taking items out of Egypt illegally. The difference between Budge and all the others is that in his autobiography he brazenly described how he did it. His 900 page book was only matched by the 2,500 page diary of Jonathan Tokeley, a modern day antiquities smuggler whose diary was used to convict a major New York dealer of dealing in stolen antiquities (Rescuing the Past, 2006). It isn’t often that tomb robbers are identified by pointing fingers at themselves, but it does happen.

Clearly Budge had always intended to smuggle these items out and he would go to extraordinary lengths to do so. As we have seen, this is not a bit of ‘hanky panky,’ of the sort when you are given a customs form on your flight back to the States after a heady vacation in Paris, and where it says, “total value of all goods you or any family members traveling with you have purchased or acquired abroad,” you write “none” knowing those bits of jewelry and that special watch you sequestered deep inside your dirty underwear are worth more than the undeclared limit.
It is not even a case of monetary value, because what we are talking about was and still is priceless by any measure. The problem is that Budge knew what he had, and he still acted as if he were just an ordinary bloke who happens across a good deal in an antique shop. For that reason, Budge was called a thief in 2006 by none other than Jonathan Tokeley. If anyone should know a thief of Egyptian antiquities, it would be Tokeley, the notorious British antiquities restorer and smuggler of record, who teamed up with the famous N.Y. antique dealer, Frederick Schultz, to run a multimillion dollar racket in Egyptian antiques.

It is obvious from Tokeley’s Rescuing the Past that he was amazed that a senior official of the British Museum was reduced by circumstances and driven by the collecting frenzy of the 1890’s to commit house breaking, stealing antiquities from the Egyptian Government and dealing in stolen goods. Worse than that, as Tokeley pointed out (and is clearly set out in Budge’s autobiography) was Budge’s open contempt for the Egyptian Antiquities Service. This must have left the Museum with a legacy of scorn that would be difficult to live down, as over a period of twenty-five years Budge would acquire 47,000 artifacts from ancient Egypt, and he thumbed his nose at anyone who lifted an eyebrow.

In his day Budge was forced out of the business by economic pressure, the market became too competitive and officials more alert to smuggling. Also, as Fagan concludes, “much progress has been made in exposing the evils of the international antiquities trade,” but, he cautions, “as long as there is a demand, there will be people to fill it.”

Now with tourism making up such an important part of the Egyptian economy, and the Egyptian national patrimony becoming the lifeblood of the country, they are even more willing to fight for it. So, watch out Budge, they want them back.
© Copyright J. Gaudet, 2009, all rights reserved.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Budgie steals the book of the dead

Luxor was still a small town when Budge arrived on or about Christmas Eve, 1887. There were only a few decent hotels the best was the Winter Palace, the second largest building in the area after the Luxor Temple. It had just opened in 1886 one year before Budge’s arrival. Since then many famous people have stayed there including the Agha Khan, Empress Eugenie, the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia, King Juan Carlos, Winston Churchill, Field Marshal Montgomery and Agatha Christie. Howard Carter stayed there along with the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, the collector of Egyptian antiquities who financed Carter's work, and it was there the announcement was made of the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922.
In Victorian times a goodly number of foreigners stayed in Luxor for their health, a practice widely recommended by the medical profession in England. Such people were perhaps more apt to choose a residential hotel such as the Luxor Hotel, a place recommended by Cook’s Guide Book of the day because, “the grounds are spacious and shaded, adjoining a farm cultivated to supply visitors with dairy produce, poultry, sheep, and bullocks. A qualified medical gentleman, a clergyman of the Church of England, and an English lady housekeeper reside in the hotel during winter.”

The Luxor Hotel is still standing and today still enjoys a good location. It is within walking distance of the Winter Palace Hotel, the Luxor Temple and the riverside pier. A quick glimpse inside the hotel courtyard reveals a brick building set in a spacious garden. It still prides itself in being one of the first three hotels to open in Luxor, however, it has suffered from the competition. Many other hotels have sprung up in Luxor over the last hundred years. Also the tour boats act as hotels for a great number of tourists, consequently it has come down in the world. But in Budge’s day it was still a major player in the world of accommodation and, as we will see, it had a major role in the theft of one of the most famous artifacts in Egyptian history.

When we left Budge the last time he was not in a good situation. He had been placed under arrest and the police had confiscated many of his antiquities, which were now held in rooms and houses that were sealed, locked and guarded. They were being held as evidence awaiting the arrival of an official of the Egyptian Government, the Head of the Antiquities Service, M. Grébaut.

Among the houses that were sealed and guarded was one small one that abutted on the wall of the garden of the Luxor Hotel. This was the house where Budge had stored his papyri in tin containers along with several items belonging to antique dealers in town, they used the basement as a safe storage place.

When the Luxor dealers saw it sealed up, and guards posted, they first invited the guards to drink cognac with them, then tried to bribe them to go away for an hour. But the guards stoutly refused to drink or to leave their posts. Not to be put off, the dealers held an interview with the manager of the Luxor Hotel. The result of their conversation according to Budge was that, “about sunset a number of gardeners and workmen appeared with their digging tools and baskets, and they dug under that part of the garden wall which was next to the house and right through into the basement of the house."

"They made scarcely any noise, and they cut through the soft, unbaked mud bricks without difficulty. Whilst they were digging I watched the work with the manager it seemed to me that the gardeners were particularly skilled house-breakers, and that they must have had much practice. It appears incredible, but the whole of the digging was carried out without the knowledge of the watchmen on the roof of the house and the sentries outside it. But it seemed unwise to rely overmuch on the silence of our operations, and we therefore arranged to give the police and the soldiers a meal, for they were both hungry and thirsty. M. Pagnon, the proprietor of the hotel, had a substantial supper prepared for them, i.e., half a sheep boiled, with several pounds of rice, and served up in pieces with sliced lemons and raisins on a huge brass tray.”

Budge then tells us that whilst they were eating happily, man after man went into the basement and brought everything out, piece by piece and box by box, and, boasts Budge, “in this way we saved the Papyrus of Ani, and all the rest of my acquisitions from the officials of the Service of Antiquities, and all Luxor rejoiced.”

Budge had won the day and what happened next was a bit of an anticlimax, M. Grébaut arrived in his steamer and tied up, but not in Luxor; he docked about 1¼ miles below Luxor downriver near the ruins at Karnak. The dealers and Budge at this point probably thought that the show was about to begin, certainly there would be some fireworks as soon as Grébaut walked into Luxor and found that the impounded antiquities had been swiped. Everyone waited for all hell to break loose, but it remained quiet all day.

Imagine the suspense. Perhaps the same feeling developed in Luxor as in the movie, High Noon when Gary Cooper, assisted by a drunk, a kid, and his Quaker wife, Grace Kelly, watch the clock tick away. Imagine Budge waiting in the middle of the dusty main street of Luxor, guns well-oiled and strapped to his thighs, the brim of his hat snapped down over his eyes to shade them from the sun as it rose to the zenith...

As it turned out, Grébaut never showed up. Instead, the news came that that he was not well. Budge waited at the hotel with his luggage until he heard the police had arrested two dealer friends. When an officer turned to Budge, presumably to put him in fetters like the rest, he talked his way out of it, “When I asked to see the warrant under which I was arrested he had nothing to produce.” The policeman left, but only after he warned Budge that he might hear more of the matter in Cairo.

Meanwhile the steamer arrived at midnight and Budge went on board with his boxes and baggage. He settled into his cabin for the night and at dawn left Luxor for Asyût. After arriving in Asyût he boarded the train to Cairo hoping to arrive that evening, but the train was late and instead he arrived early in the morning and found that there were no longer any carriages at the station. Budge was stuck once again. There he was with all that precious baggage and no transport,
“As I sat there, practically on the roadside, two British officers out for an early morning ride passed by, and as they did so one of them hailed me in a cheery voice, and asked me why I was sitting there at that time of the morning. I recognized the voice as that of an officer of whom I had seen a great deal the year before in Aswan, and I quickly told him why I was there, and about the contents of my bags and boxes, and my wish to get into the town as soon as possible. After a short talk with his brother officer, whom I had met at General Sir Frederick Stephenson's house in Cairo, my friend dismounted and went to the police, whom I had pointed out to him, and told them to carry my bags and boxes into Cairo for me.”

The Customs Officer posted at the bridge on the outskirts of the city assumed that the police were carrying British Army goods and therefore made no attempt to stop them. Budge’s officer friends dropped him at the Army barracks where he found his old friend Major Hepper, the officer who had helped so much when they were clearing out the tombs in Aswan the previous winter. Hepper listened to the story of Budge’s Luxor experiences with great interest, then, in a reply that stretches the imagination, asked Budge to: “...tell him where the papyri and...tablets were to go, and for whom I had bought them. I told him I had bought them for the British Museum, and that they would be paid for by the British Treasury with public money, and that I was most anxious to get them sent off to the British Museum before I started for Baghdad. In answer he said, 'I think I can help you, and I will. As you have bought these things which you say are so valuable for the British Museum, and they are to be paid for with public money, they are clearly the property of the British Government, and they must be put into a place of safety as soon as possible.'”

Hepper went on to say that he was leaving for Alexandria that afternoon and would take all the tin boxes containing the papyri with him and send them on to the British Museum. So even before Budge left Egypt for Baghdad he learned, perhaps via another friend, one he had made in Alexandria who happened to be the Director of Telegraphs, that the papyri had been received in London.

And so it was done, technically Budge had stolen the Papyrus of Ani along with everything that had been confiscated in Luxor. He later claimed it was all legal, as he had bought the objects and resold them to the Museum at a later date, but he glosses over the fact that he had taken the Papyrus of Ani against the will of the Egyptian Government and the British Consul, in violation of customs regulations and the use of military baggage to which he was not entitled.

How times change, in a recently assembled show (according to the Earth Times website, the Ruhr Museum looks at the treasure-hunting era before archaeology settled down to become just another academic subject. (“The Great Game: Archaeology and Politics in the Colonial Period,” in Essen, Germany, runs until June 13.) Charlotte Truempler, head of the archaeology department of the new museum, which was inaugurated a month ago, said it was the first show she knew of that had looked at the political implications of turn-of- the-century archaeology. Ulrich Borsdorf, head of the Ruhr Museums notes that archaeology is a highly political matter, which is why today's archaeologists are very careful about what they say and would never dare do anything illegal. Professor Gehrke, effectively the top archaeologist in Germany, agreed. “We are a research institute. We don’t collect things any more. We leave everything in the country where we found it.”

I wonder what Budgie would say to that?

Next post, The Last Word.
© Copyright J. Gaudet, 2010, all rights reserved. (Photos from Library of Congress and Wikimedia Commons)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Budgie Finds the Sacred Book and Much More

Budge’s second field trip for the British Museum was to Baghdad in 1887 to inspect an important dig the Museum had at the original site of the Biblical town of Nineveh. Along the way he was told to make a stop in Luxor, in Egypt where it was reported that an important “find” had been made. He landed in Alexandria on December 16th intending to quickly travel to Luxor, there he would buy whatever was intereting and return to the coast in time to catch a steamer and travel on to Baghdad via Basra. He soon found that it would not be that easy. He had worn out his welcome on his first trip. Much of this was due to resentment because he had illegally removed so many artifacts. A wall of defensive resistance was thrown up around him and, almost from the moment he set foot on Egyptian soil, he was under suspicion.

The first inkling of this came when the British Vice Consul in Alexandria read him the Riot Act. He told Budge that as he was an official of the British Museum he was “strictly forbidden by the laws of buy or export any antiquity.” Another warning came a few days later after he arrived in Cairo, where the new Director of Service of Antiquities came personally to his hotel to threatened Budge with arrest and legal prosecution if he attempted to deal with local collectors. Worse yet was the news that a police watch had been put on him. The police were to report his comings and goings in Cairo and to take the names of any antiquity dealers who talked to him.

And it didn’t end there. It was traditional when traveling south in Egypt to take the night train from Cairo along the west bank to the river port of Asyut, and then board the steamer the next day to go upriver to Luxor. But, the minute Budge got on the train in Cairo, he was informed by two fellow passengers, a Frenchman and a Maltese, also collectors, that there were police onboard who had been ordered specifically to watch both them and him.

Well, Budge, now what? The message was loud and clear. A lesser person would have turned tail and gone on to his business in Baghdad. Not Budgie, he stayed on the train where he learned that the Frenchman was on his way south to Amarna a town on the eastern bank where lay the ruins of the capital of the Egyptian Sun King, the Pharaoh Akhenaten; also called “Tell al-Amarna,” this enormous ancient city was built in the late 18th Dynasty (1353 BC). In was here in the ruins of the Library of the Royal Residence where some clay tablets were said to have been found.

None of this was news to Budge who even before he left London had been alerted by letter from one of his new Egyptian friends, a collector he’d met on his first trip. Budge could read cuneiform writing so he knew that, if real, such tablets would be an important find. Normally they were found in profusion in and around excavations near Baghdad the place where he was going after Egypt, but what were they doing here? Here in Egypt where for thousands of years papyrus was the preferred medium of the Pharaoh, cuneiform tablets were completely out of place.

As the train traveled south, stopping at every small station, Budge dozing in his berth had time to work out a plan. Early the next day when the train reached Deir Mawas, the station for Amarna, knowing what he knew of the importance of the tablets, it must have taken great discipline for Budge to sit there and watch the Frenchman get off the train. Budge stayed in his seat and he and the Maltese watched as a police escort got off as well and followed the Frenchman into town.

Budge and the Maltese continued south to Asyut where they boarded the steamer. Several days later they arrived in Luxor. Here the Maltese got off along with the rest of the police leaving Budge who was now free to go on to Aswan. From the steamer dock in Luxor, Budge could see the Temple of Luxor, including its massive pillars and Hypostyle Hall. Striking in its features it is still much smaller in plan than the temple complex just downriver at Karnak.

When I arrived 123 years later in December of this last year, I found that it hadn’t changed much. I arrived on a steamer that was much larger and grander, but the sight was just as breathtaking. My itinerary was different from Budge's although I was also in a hurry, but not because of the police, I was being harried by hundreds of fellow tourists and unmerciful guides.

Budgie’s steamer stayed only a few hours in Luxor, but during that time he looked up a resident collector, a friend, Rev. Chauncey Murch of the American Mission in Luxor. From him and others Budge got detailed descriptions of what was available from the new horde, he also found out who would be the best dealer to go to locally to get what he wanted. He was now set to carry out the next phase of his plan, but first he had to continue on to Aswan to make people believe he had no further interest in Luxor. At Aswan he found most of the Army had left and the town had reverted back to rather a large sleepy Nile village. The steamer stayed there three days then early in the morning started its return to Luxor arriving the same day just as the sun was setting.

On arriving back in Luxor Budge perhaps lingered in his cabin until it was dark enough to walk into town with impunity. The police seemed to have had other things to do as he stopped first at some tinsmiths where he ordered several tin boxes made up. Then he went with a few local collectors who rowed him across the river to a small tomb on the western bank. It was all done quickly and in the dark. Arriving at the site of the tombs he found,

“...a rich store of fine and rare objects, and among them the largest roll of papyrus I had ever seen. The roll was tied round with a thick band of papyrus cord, and was in a perfect state of preservation, and the clay seal which kept together the ends of the cord was unbroken. The roll lay in a rectangular niche in the north wall of the sarcophagus chamber, among a few hard stone amulets. It seemed like sacrilege to break the seal and untie the cord, but when I had copied the name on the seal, I did so, for otherwise it would have been impossible to find out the contents of the papyrus. We unrolled a few feet of the papyrus an inch or so at a time, for it was very brittle, and I was amazed at the beauty and freshness of the colors of the human figures and animals, which, in the dim light of the candles and the heated air of the tomb, seemed to be alive. A glimpse of the Judgment Scene showed that the roll was a large and complete Codex of the Per-em-hru, or ‘Book of the Dead,’ and scores of lines repeated the name of the man for whom this magnificent roll had been written and painted, viz., ‘Ani, the real royal scribe, the registrary of the offerings of all the Gods, overseer of the granaries of the Lords of Abydos, and scribe of the offerings of the Lords of Thebes.’”

When the papyrus was unrolled in London the inscribed portion of it was found to be 78 feet long. That same evening he also found, conveniently stored in niches in the same tomb, a papyrus of the Priestess Anhai, a papyrus codex of the Book of the Dead written by Nu in the 18th Dynasty and a leather roll containing chapters of the Book of the Dead, with beautifully painted vignettes.

Again, Budge is lucky, in one stroke he comes into possession of four rare and extremely valuable objects. And on the following day he acquired eighty-two tablets, his share of the Amarna Letters. He thus completed a collection that few if any had come into within such a short period of time, in just under twelve months he could be ranked with the masters, Belzoni, Salt and Drovetti the principle perpetrators of the Rape of the Nile.

Once he determined that they were authentic, the tablets allowed him to unravel the story of the “Amarna Letters,” correspondence on tablets written in Akkadian from the royal households in Mesopotamia to the 18th Dynasty Pharaohs in Egypt, Amenhotep III and IV. Of the cache of three hundred that had been found by a woman digging for compost near the ruins, all were sold to a neighbor for 10 piastres. Many others surfaced at this time, but they represented exactly what archeologists are always looking for, everyday correspondence, the business of life, true, this was a cut above the ordinary in that royal households were involved, still it was fascinating, one, for example, was a large tablet that contained a list of the dowry items of a Mesopotamian princess who was going to marry a king of Egypt.

On arrival back in Luxor town at dawn, Budge stopped to pick up the tin boxes into which he placed his treasures. While drinking coffee in the house of a friend he learned that police and soldiers had arrived with orders during the night from M. Grébaut, the Director of the Service of Antiquities, to take possession of every house containing antiquities in Luxor. They were told also to arrest the house owners and Budge. He asked to see the warrants for the arrests and was told that they would be produced later. M. Grébaut had failed to reach Luxor because his steamer was stranded.
Since nothing else could be done, they all had breakfast including the guards, after which Budge was allowed to go about his business as long as he did not leave the town. Meanwhile the police took possession of the house, posted watchmen on the roof, a sentry at each corner of the building, sealed them and set guards over them.

It was a done deal, all of Budge’s loot was now locked up. He hadn't counted on any of this, and was forced to sit and wait for his Nemesis to arrive. Apparently the Egyptians were not willing to let him get away with his loot this time without a fight. It was now between Budgie and them as we'll see in the next post...
© Copyright J. Gaudet, 2010, all rights reserved. (Photos from Library of Congress, British Museum, Wikimedia Commons and author's collection.)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Budgie and His Giant Suitcases

The most important archeological development in Aswan since the building of the magnificent ancient temples was the dismantling of the same temples in modern times. This was part of an international project aimed to save more than a dozen temples from inundation. The rise in water level was caused by the Aswan High Dam, an impressive dam that sits astride the Nile above a lower dam built by the British in1902. The High dam has a generating capacity of 2,100 megawatts and was begun in 1960 and inaugurated in 1971.

The lake so created (which is called Lake Nasser in Egypt but beyond the border with Sudan the name changes to Lake Nubia) is also impressive, a point driven home when you fly over it on your way to Abu Simbel.

There are two temples at Abu Simbel, the principal one is dedicated to the chief gods of Heliopolis, Memphis, and Thebes by Ramsses II (1250 BC). The second is dedicated to Hathor and honors Ramesses’ beloved wife, Nefertari. As the water rose, flooding the area, a remarkable engineering feat was begun in which both temples were cut apart and reassembled 650 ft. away on higher ground. The main temple is oriented as in the original so that the first rays of the rising sun illuminate the innermost sanctuary.

The temples were discovered in 1812 by the Swiss explorer, Johann Burckhardt, but they subsequently proved a disappointment to the collectors and looters of the 1800’s, who were looking for portable goods. In those days well before the advent of the High Dam the temple complexes of the region were in danger of being dismantled by the governer, Mohammed Ali, who was determined to build a modern Egypt and needed building blocks for his new offices and factories. Abu Simbel was left untouched because of its remoteness and being covered with sand, but Ali had little use for any of the other ancient structures and allowed Henry Salt, Giovanni Belzoni and Bernardino Drovetti to divide Egypt between them and plunder systematically.

They were not shy about their motives, which were to fill the European nation’s appetites for new, different and important antiquities, and in the process to make money. In their footsteps came Flinders Petrie with his “science of observation, registration and recording,” whose goal was to understand, and Budgie who took anything left behind and anything else not nailed down to satisfy his passion as a collector.

On his first trip to Egypt in 1887 Budge left off his excavation work in Aswan and made a side trip to Wadi Halfa where he was approached by Col. Holled Smith who had been hard at it on the western bank of the Nile clearing sand from the Temples of the 18th Dynasty Pharaohs, Thutmose II and III (1500-1425 BC). Smith found a door jamb and part of a stele of Thutmose III, a statue of Ka-mesu, one of the ancient viceroys of the Egyptian Sudan, a stele set up by Seti I in the temple of Thutmose II, a stele of another viceroy, Setau, and a stele of Mernetchem, an ancient inspector of the gold mines in the Sudan. All of these were presented by Smith to Budge for the Museum. Later Budge added a group of good Egyptian steles from Akhmim, a rectangular slab of stone with a Greek inscription on each side from Kom Ombo, and many pieces of sculptured stone from some ancient buildings in Philae to this horde.

Toward the end of Budge’s stay in Aswan, it happened that another Army friend, General de Montmorency, received orders to take over command of the Army in Alexandria. As he was packing up his household goods in preparation for the move, he had all of Budge’s collection packed up and crated as well. Budge could then leave Aswan and travel on while the bulk of his goods were sent as military baggage via a special Government barge.

In Luxor, Budge acquired a few more items including a gilded bronze figure of Seth the god of Evil, the first figure of that god ever found, an exquisite ivory amulet of Seneb, a lady who flourished under the 18th Dynasty, on which was cut figures of the Earth-god, Aker, and many other deities, animals and fabulous monsters, the first of its kind acquired by the British Museum. In addition, he bought a remarkable waxen book, with seven tablets and covers with inscriptions of an unknown character, as well as a wooden board inscribed on both sides with thirteen lines from the Iliad, a large handsomely written Demotic papyrus, with Greek dockets, and several smaller Demotic papyri.

Luckily, while he was in Cairo he was able to put all of his new booty into the cases from Aswan as they were passing through. At this point he craftily separated out six cases that he sent to be examined by the Egyptian Antiquity Service. Presumably, as they were less noteworthy pieces, they were quickly expedited and sent on. Budge’s goal was to obtain token clearance while the other eighteen cases remained embedded in de Montmorency’s shipment. We know something of this because it was seen in transit by Flinders Petrie, the noted Egyptologist who was then on a research trip in Egypt. He was astonished to see one ‘case’ that was actually a block weighing ¾ ton, and for which no packing could be found except railway ties. These were spiked together with 6 inch spikes after the item had been draped in canvas and clearly labeled, ‘Military Baggage.’ Petrie thought it was the largest ‘suitcase’ he had ever seen.

The day before Budge left Cairo he was told to stop in and see the Consul, Sir Evelyn Baring, who evidently was highly displeased. Specifically Baring disapproved of Budge’s operations in Egypt and wanted him to stop.
“Mr. Budge, (paraphrasing Budge’s autobiography) I’m at a loss as to how to make this more clear. I strongly object to the exportation of antiquities from Egypt, whether to the British Museum or to any other place, and I order you, not only to cease buying from native dealers, but to return them.”
“Return them?” asked Budge.
“Yes, everything that you have acquired.”
“Sir, I respectfully point out that I have been sent to Egypt at public expense to dig out tombs for the Sirdar, and in return the Trustees expect me to take back to the British Museum the share of the results to which they are entitled. Unfortunately, the tombs which I cleared out contained nothing that I can give to the Trustees in return for my services. Not wanting to return to England empty-handed I’ve taken the opportunity of purchasing a number of objects to fill up gaps in the National Collection.”
“I understand you, sir,” said Baring. “I want you to return them forthwith.”
“I can’t,” said Budge.
“Why not?”
“I’m afraid they’ve already been dispatched to London.”
“My God, sir, you take the cake. But at least there is one thing you will not leave with.”
“What is that, sir?”
“After leaving Aswan you’ve been reported to have got hold of a book of wax tablets inscribed in Greek shorthand. The Antiquities Service knows about this and wants it left here.”
“I’m sorry, that’s also gone. And I’d like to add that I’m not one of your staff. I am an employee of the Museum and I intend to carry out the task the Trustees have set me...”
“Get out, sir!” roared Baring now red in the face.

In all, on his very first collecting trip, Budge brought home to England 1,482 items. What a way to start your career. His second trip to Egypt was a hurried one that he made on route to Baghdad during Christmas week of the following year. On that trip as we’ll see in the next post, he was only allowed a few weeks in Egypt, which meant that he had to be very selective. One goal of his next trip was to follow up on a rumor of important “finds” by private collectors in Luxor. It is on this second trip that he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Next post, Budgie the Keeper and the Luxor Caper.

© Copyright J. Gaudet, 2009, all rights reserved. (Old Photo of Abu Simbel from Library of Congress)