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CAIRO: Egypt has tried to halt the auction of a 3,000-year-old stone sculpture of the famed boy pharaoh Tutankhamun at Christie’s in London, while the auction house said its sale was legal.

The statue a brown quartzite head depicting King Tut is scheduled to be auctioned off in July, and could generate more than $5 million, according to Christie’s. The artefact features King Tut’s full mouth with slightly drooping lower lips and almond-shaped eyes.

For many, King Tut is the ultimate symbol of ancient Egypt’s glory. Howard Carter discovered the pharaoh’s nearly intact tomb in 1922 in the Valley of the Kings, located on the west bank of the Nile River in Luxor. The site was packed with the glittering wealth of the 18th Dynasty, which ruled from 1569 to 1315 BC, and yielded some of Egypt’s most famous treasures.

In a statement late on Saturday, the Egyptian foreign ministry said that it had demanded the auction house provide documents proving the statue’s ownership, and that it reached out to British authorities and the UN culture and education agency “to stop the sale procedures” for it and other Egyptian objects included in the lot.

It added that Egypt has the right to the statue based on its current and previous laws. Mostafa Waziri, chief of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that Christie’s has not answered their requests yet. He said he believes that the head belongs to King Tut, but it was not found in the tomb in the Valley of the Kings. “This head is not one of the 5,398 pieces that were found inside the tomb,” he said.

According to a 1983 law regulating the ownership of antiquities, any ancient artefacts found in the country are considered state property, “with the exception of antiquities whose ownership or possession was already established at the time this law came into effect.”

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2019