Chapter 15: The Opinion of Dr. Harold J. Plenderleith

In Rome, in 1961, Edgard went to see Dr. Harold J. Plenderleith, Director of the International Center for the study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (UNESCO). Plenderleith, for many years the Chief Chemist of the Research Laboratory of the British Museum, received Edgard most kindly. Edgard described the problem in detail and gave Dr. Plenderleith the pieces of Amarna that he had brought, together with copies of all the scientific reports obtained in Cairo and the United States. From the very beginning, Plenderleith showed the greatest interest in the sculptures, as well as in the story of the Collection. He asked Edgard to leave the sculptures and all the documents with him and return in a week. Edgard complied. A few days later, he received the following letter-report:

To All Whom It May Concern:

I have handled one or two specimens from the Mansoor Collection of limestone figurines from Tell El Amarna that were stated to be typical of the Collection, looked at the surface with a magnifier but have made no laboratory examination. I have been shown a number of scientific reports, summaries of these in a review by Professor C. O. Hutton, Stanford University, Calif. as well as photographs taken in day light, U.V. and I.R. illumination and after studying these I have read Dr. Stross in Analytical Chemistry, March 1960.

My first impression of the great interest attaching to these specimens remains. That the collection has been considered to be "too good to be true" by some is understandable for the specimens submitted to me showed "wear" (degradation) but very little actual deterioration after 3,000 years; they were all very clean; there was little damage of such a nature, as to impair their value as art or historic objects, finely chiselled noses, chins, etc. having survived where thick necks had been broken; and a curious freshness of line attracted attention, made by the sculptor's point, which remained rather whitish in the textured and colored limestone. In regard to the laboratory reports submitted it may be sufficient to state that I find the published account of Dr. Stross entirely convincing and to my mind it is not essential to carry any laboratory enquiry as to genuineness further, the case having been amply proved.

Interest lies rather in trying to understand and explain the discrepancies in the reports. Granted that the conclusions in certain instances are incompatible. Thus, I have a strong impression that the objects seen by me had never been exposed to weathering in the normal sense, i.e. exposed in the open. I regard the degraded surfaces of the stone as having arisen from natural burial in sharp sand. A grinding phenomenon then operates through the years as is well-known and can even result in its entire disappearance! The fine tool lines referred to above as "being whitish" were possibly caked over by a protective layer through the ages and the general clean appearance of all specimens suggests the washtub, probably with brushing that could easily result in ambiguity in the interpretation of U.V. fluorescences.

In my considered opinion it would be as serious a mistake to underestimate the importance of scientific investigation as to consider that a lack of unanimity in the conclusions warrants a decision against the genuineness of the Egyptian antiquities, for as I have analyzed the evidence before me, the inescapable conclusion is that there is overriding agreement as to their genuineness.

It is because of this conviction that I am taking the exceptional step of making this gratuitous statement in the hope that after twenty years of doubts, it may be a factor in restoring confidence.

Harold J. Plenderleith (signed)

What else can one add to such a letter from a scientist whose every word is highly respected in every museum as well as in every research laboratory everywhere in the world? This letter always carried much weight, but the directors and curators of the American museums were still uncooperative and most adamant in their refusal to review the case of the Mansoor Amarna sculptures; had they re-examined them and found out they were truly genuine, how could they have explained their attitude of the last twenty years?

A year later, M. A .Mansoor, William, Alphonse and Edgard had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Plenderleith in Rome. The Mansoors told Dr. Plenderleith what had been happening with the museums, their directors, curators and Egyptologists, and he responded that he was, unfortunately, aware of such behavior on the part of many supposedly "responsible persons" in these institutions. He encouraged them by saying that they should relentlessly continue their work and that sooner or later the whole truth of the matter would be known. The Mansoors now needed to air the facts, scientific as well as Egyptological, as much as possible.

In 1965, Dr. Fred Stross, who had devoted much time to this Collection since the Mansoors had first known him in 1946, wrote with an associate, Mr. W.J. Eisenlord, a twenty-four page pamphlet titled "A Report on a Group of Limestone Carvings Owned by M. A. Mansoor and Sons." This authoritative study, which unfortunately cannot be reproduced here for lack of space, described the problem, the factual evidence (weathering, polishing, patina and other deposits) and discussed in some detail the relevant methods of examination appplied by the many scientists who had studied the sculptures, adding Dr. Stross' own comments, especially where emphasis or clarification was needed. Hundreds of copies of the booklet, which also illustrated some sculptures of the Collection, including the head of Nefertiti purchased by the Denver Art Museum, were sent to museums and universities in America and Europe. It became one of the most important documents in defense of the Collection.

But the years passed and American museum officials still refused to see the Mansoors and again most of their letters and pleas remained unanswered. Only now and then, a curator from a museum would write them to obtain more information on some Egyptian work of art that had been purchased from the M.A.Mansoor Firm before the start of the Amarna controversy. Gladly the Mansoors obliged. Example: Dr. William H. Peck Curator at the Detroit Institute of Arts, wrote the Mansoors concerning the Sebekemhat that Dr. Robinson bought years ago. This great work of ancient Egyptian art has been acclaimed by Dr. Peck as the "Curator's Choice" in the Fall 1991, issue of "KMT, A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt." This statue has been published also, outstandingly, in the "Journal of Egyptian Archaeology," (p.41) Vol.62 (1976) by Dr. William Kelly Simpson when he was curator at the Boston Museum. None of these two noted Egyptologists mentioned that this outstanding statue was purchased from the Mansoors. As I mentioned it before, the Mansoor name had to be obliterated.

M. A. Mansoor, who had been working and traveling with his sons all these years despite his age and weakening eyesight, decided to return to Egypt for a visit. He had not been back for more than a year, and he and Mrs. Mansoor wished to see their two daughters, who were still in Cairo.

Copyright © 1995 Christine Mansoor

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