8486 - London gallery helps solve museum's 160-year old mystery surrounding ancient Egyptian royal box


Amenhotep II box and fragment.
Missing fragments of an ancient Egyptian treasure have been reunited with the rest of the remains – 160 years after the item was donated to a Scottish museum.
The move came as a result of work by noted London ancient art dealers Charles Ede, who held the fragments, and Egyptologist Tom Hardwick.

Reuniting the lost fragments with the rest of the highly decorated c.1400BC perfume box at the National Museums of Scotland has confirmed its suspected royal associations after more than a century of conjecture about its provenance.

It is thought to have been made for the granddaughter of Pharaoh Amenhotep II, who ruled from about 1427-1401 BC, during Egypt’s 18th dynasty.

Bearing the image of Bes, a creature believed to be both a symbol of good luck and help ward off evil spirits, the box is also said to bear a remarkable resemblance to those found in Tutankhamen’s tomb.

The museum’s ancient Egypt expert, Dr Margaret Maitland, believes the box is “one of the finest examples of decorative woodwork to survive from ancient Egypt”. A masterpiece of ancient Egyptian craftsmanship, the 8½in high box is constructed of cedar, ebony, ivory, copper alloy, faience and gold and is thought to have been buried with a group of ten princesses.

Such is its nature and quality that experts believe it is likely to have been used by the royal household on a daily basis.

After research by Dr Hardwick revealed the link last April, the gallery immediately contacted the museum, which was able to raise the £25,000 needed to purchase it with support from the Art Fund and the National Museums Scotland Charitable Trust.

It is thought that the box was excavated in 1857 from a tomb in modern Luxor where the mummies of Amenhotep II’s granddaughters were found.

In 1895, the surviving pieces of the box were reconstructed , with elements of its decoration being restored in the 1950s. The discovery of the additional fragments now shows that the earlier restoration was flawed and errors made.

The box will go on public display in March as part of an ancient Egypt exhibition.