Chapter 6: A Report Spelling Disaster

Upon his return from England, Young wrote to inform William that he had had the opportunity to closely examine, for comparative reasons, other objects of Tell-el-Amarna, including the material in the British Museum and the fresco painting showing two of Akhenaten's daughters in the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford. He was now ready to complete his examination of the Mansoor sculptures.

It had been a year and a half since Young had received the sculptures in Boston. On April 20,1949, William received Young's long awaited report dated April 14,1949. The remarks and conclusions from his report are reproduced below:

Here is a so-called "researcher" in one of the noblest art institutions in the world who comes out to declare that "the above examinations, in my opinion, clearly indicate that the pieces in question are of fairly modern origin." Young wrote at the top of his report, "the nine limestone pieces were first examined under ultraviolet rays." Just how accurate was this light? Do all materials - limestone, granite, marble, wood, bronze, silver, etc. - fluoresce the same color or in different shades? What are the colors of these fluorescences when an object is of a certain age? Did Young possess a chart? In this case, this chart would have had to be immensely long. According to scientists, study by means of ultraviolet light cannot by itself provide estimates of the age of a cut or curved stone object. Many scientists have expressed their opinions against this false evidence in vigorous terms. These will be discussed in a later chapter.

William went to see Lansing in the Metropolitan Museum. When Lansing read Young's report, he was not only shocked, but also distressed. He liked the sculptures and had hoped to acquire some of them for his museum. But he was not a scientist and he too, knew nothing of the ultraviolet lamp. He suggested that William should go to Boston and see Young again. He had made a mistake regarding the limestone before. Perhaps William could convince him to re-examine the weathering, and explain in detail how he arrived at his conclusions.

As much as William hated the thought, he went to see Young again. He had to go to bring back the sculptures anyway. When William faced Young, all he heard was, "The ultraviolet light is is obvious is clear that...etc." To end it all, Young added, "I know how much this Collection means to you, your father and others, but I have done everything I can." There was no way William could reason with him. He was intransigent.

William went to see John Cooney in Brooklyn. After reading the report, Cooney said, "There it is. It is all written here. These Amarna sculptures have fooled many persons before." William tried to protest, to argue against Young's points, but Cooney was adamant. To him, Young was the final word when it came to the technical examination of Ancient Egyptian works of art. William asked him if he knew of any other scientists who could examine the sculptures, but his answer was negative.William suggested bringing a few of the sculptures to the museum so Cooney could study them once more, particularly to point out, in his opinion as an Egyptologist, what was stylistically wrong with them. A few weeks later, William brought him some pieces.

Meanwhile, William sent Young's report to his father, suggesting that Dr. Zaki Iskandar, the newly appointed Chief Chemist of the Department of Antiquities, and one of Lucas' ablest assistants, could re-examine some of the sculptures that were still in Cairo and write a detailed report about them. The report of Alfred Lucas was a preliminary study, and no one in the United States, so far, had given it any attention.

William went to several other museums to discuss Young's report with directors and curators, but no one felt inclined to make any comments. Politely, though at times with some sympathy, they made him understand that they were not interested in the sculptures. With much regret, Lansing informed William that under these circumstances he too, could no longer consider the sculptures for purchase by the Metropolitan. But he added that he did not believe in Young's report and still thought the sculptures were genuine.

In the meantime, M. A. Mansoor showed Young's report to Drioton, Gabra and the others, who were aware of all its misrepresentations and shortcomings. They had already shown it to Dr. Zaki Iskandar at the Cairo Museum, who had agreed with them, and who would soon examine in his laboratory all the pieces that were still in Cairo.

Edmond arrived in the autumn of 1949, the two brothers planned several short trips together within the United States. Again, they met several directors and curators of museums, no one was eager to discuss their Amarna sculptures. There was, however, one exception. Dr. Otto Karl Bach, Director of the Denver Art Museum, whom they had already seen on previous occasions, received them cordially and looked at and discussed with them two of the sculptures they had brought to Denver. He saw great beauty in the sculptures and was interested to learn more about them. Was this a glimpse of hope? They were to find out in time.

When William and Edmond called on Cooney again, his mind had been made up. In his opinion, the sculptures were made recently; they were not of the Amarna period. He simply stated that they did not conform with the style of Amarna, that they were different from all the other Amarna material that he knew. He simply couldn't understand that they were different because they were carved by different artists.

Then, something strange and totally unexpected happened. He told them, with great sympathy, that he had known of this Collection for some time, that their father had made an honest mistake, "as many of us do occasionally," and that he himself, had made one regarding some Amarna objects. To prove his point, he took the Mansoor brothers to a storage room, opened a cabinet drawer and produced a limestone head supposedly portraying Akhenaten. He said that he had purchased it only to realize later that he had a fake on his hands. The Mansoor brothers looked at it. They had seen similar ugly carvings before, but had never thought that such things could fool even a beginner in the study of Egyptology. Thoughts traveled fast in their mind. "This man was John D. Cooney, a well regarded Egyptologist, an expert who advised others to buy or reject such or such Egyptian artifacts. This was a man of experience and knowledge! Is it possible that such a person could make such a mistake?" The brothers were aware that "eye-experts" do make mistakes, but a mistake on such an object was inconceivable. They thought that if Cooney had really purchased it - and he said he had - then he could know so little of Egyptian art. The Mansoors say, "His carving had no art, no style, no basic Egyptian features, no symmetry, no beauty. It was clumsy, un-Egyptian, distasteful, unpleasant. It was something that no one, art lover or not, could have wanted to possess."

If the Mansoor brothers have mentioned this unfortunate, but well-known episode, it is to point out that an Egyptologist may not necessarily be a great connoisseur of Egyptian art. He may be an art historian, he might remember important dates, he might be convinced that the Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza are ancient because they are obviously so and because even the fellah knows it. But when it comes to appreciating an object of great beauty - and antiquity - he may be excellent, fair, poor or nil.

It is far from being my interest, as well as the Mansoors to criticize Egyptologists as a group, for many who are truly scholars, we have the highest admiration and respect. Like lawyers, doctors or politicians, they can be great or mediocre. But, against those who think, and would have others think that they are the gods of Egyptology, and who make much noise to say little or the wrong thing, the Mansoors say: "We should raise our voice. Our duty is to warn the art loving public of these persons' domination of Egyptology and of their corruptive influence on the minds of directors and trustees of art museums. Such Egyptologists must recognize their limitations and abilities. They can be excellent in certain areas of Egyptology dealing with history, religion, monuments, etc., but they do not have the final word as critics and judges of ancient Egyptian art masterpieces."

In "Art in Egypt" (charles Scribner's Sons, 1952, New York), G. Maspero, Director General of the Service of Antiquities of Egypt, wrote in the preface, page ix "...and how many marvels Egypt herself displays to tourists and even to scholars who pass them by indifferently! Nevertheless, Egyptian Art is no longer the exclusive domain of a priveleged few."

One must also mention the jealousy among certain Egyptologists. This is unfortunate. Then there are those who work together, supporting each other's views simply because they do not know any better themselves. This, too, is unfortunate. But, what happens when this group of Egyptologists is suddenly confronted with the appearance in a museum of a so-called "great" object of undetermined origin! This happened a few years ago when in Germany, the Hanover Museum purchased such an Egyptian sculpture. Cooney and his friends, could not see eye to eye. Some whispered. Some made noises. Others wanted to protect the interest of the institution that employed them, while others wanted to save their own reputation. In the meantime, they hid behind the screen of anonymity. No one wanted to be quoted openly.

Copyright © 1995 Christine Mansoor

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