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For 30 years, AUC has hosted Egyptian antiquities from different eras of history, yet most students, faculty and staff have never seen them or even knew about them. The existence of these antiquities was only revealed to the public after they were stolen in late 2010 and the media publicized the theft. The Caravan has conducted an investigation into this matter.
In this third article in our four-part series, The Caravan examines the roots of AUC's collection and how Egyptian artifacts came to be stored on university grounds.
AUC originally possessed a total of 1664 pieces, divided into a larger main collection simply called the "AUC collection" and a smaller, but more valuable collection registered under the name of one Karma Pippin.
The main contributors to the main collection are AUC President Richard Pedersen, who headed the university from 1977 to 1990, and professor of Islamic art, George Scanlon, who is now retired.
The Pippin collection initially belonged to a former, now deceased, English and Comparative Literature professor at AUC, Robert Gene Pippin, and his wife, Karma.
Records at the Supreme Council of Antiquities show that there are three catalog books where these collections are registered. Each piece listed in these books has a specific number, a description and a photograph attached.
The AUC collection is divided between two books. The first lists pieces number 1 to 1001, and the second lists pieces number 1001 to 1429. The third book is for the collection under Karma Pippin's name. It lists 235 pieces.
Three corresponding books are present at AUC under the supervision of Refaei Fattouh, assistant director of warehouses and stores, and the sole custodian of the antiquities since 1994.
Finances for AUC's collection
Robert and Karma Pippin lived in Egypt between 1965 and 1980 and were present during Pedersen's time at AUC.
According to Karma Pippin, Pedersen was tasked by the Board of Trustees to buy antiquities and start a collection for the university and was granted funds to do so.
Buying artifacts was a normal and legal practice back in the 1970s and early 1980s. Several dealers were present in Khan El Khalili and downtown Cairo.
"The AUC Board of Trustees granted President Pedersen a sum of money for purchasing antiquities," Pippin said.
Furthermore, letters acquired by The Caravan through university archives show an ex¬change between Pedersen and then Board of Trustees member George Bickford, dating from 1990, where Pedersen expressed interest in establishing an AUC antiquities collection.
"About twenty years ago AUC was buying some current art. And when I arrived there also was about $10,000 in re¬stricted gifts for such purchases that had not been used. Over the period of two or three years I spent it all for pharonic, Coptic, and Islamic objects that could then be legally acquired," he wrote.
Regarding the endow¬ment fund, Pedersen emphasized that the "regular¬ity - rather than quantity" of the acquisitions will help AUC "keep up with the artistic developments in Egypt and to have an educational and cultural collection."
Thomas Bartlett, AUC's president from 1963 to 1969, a member of the Board of Trustees during Pedersen's time, and currently an advisory trustee for the university, told The Caravan that he was not aware of the board's interest in such an activity.
However, he commented on the 10,000 dollars endowment saying that, "That's not a lot of money for a single distinguished piece."
"If you were going to buy hundreds of pieces, that's almost not enough to bother with - let us start with a million dollars," he said.
"From the point of view of the university, when we were very poor... everything was a lot, but in terms of [buying antiquities] that [is] nothing," he added.
Rowaida Saad El Din, who worked in the AUC Office of President from 1981 to 2010, told The Caravan that Pedersen mainly used his personal funds to purchase antiquities.
"Most of the time he used his personal funds... but for big pieces he used university funds," she said.
Said El Din also said that it was common to buy a number of pieces, for example twenty, in one purchasing deal as it was common practice at the time.
Karma Pippin says that only major pharonic pieces could cost such a large sum of money as that mentioned by Bartlett.
She explains that her husband Robert Pippin bought pieces back in the late 1960's at a cheap price.
"My husband paid very little for most of the pieces, many of which were even just two or three [Egyptian] pounds, others from ten to thirty," she said, "Part of the reason was that he tended to avoid Pharaonic pieces, and Roman Egyptian works [that my husband bought] weren't fashionable, especially the mold-made votives for temples."
It also seems that Pedersen himself did not succeed in buying distinct expensive pieces.
How the collections grew
Pedersen was supposed to consult Kent Weeks, an Egyptology professor and currently the head of Theban Mapping Project at AUC, for ancient Egyptian pieces, and consult George Scanlon, professor of Islamic art at AUC, for the Islamic material.
However, according to Pippin, Pedersen failed to do so and as a result he ended up buying very few valuable pieces.
"With one notable exception, the Pedersen collection is composed of objects of poor quality with a very high percentage of fakes, and the Trustees were furious. I reveal no secret in telling you this. It was well known at the time and has been a perplexing problem for many people," she told The Caravan.
Weeks confirmed that Pedersen had bought the antiquities independently.
"He acquired all of it from licensed dealers in Khan El Khalili in Cairo. And he acquired them by going to the various dealers' shops on Fridays and buying things that he saw and liked," Weeks said.
"The objects were all pieces, what the archaeologist calls minor arts and crafts. In other words, there were no big fancy pieces of statuary. There were no rare metal, nothing made of gold, or jewels, or anything like that," he added.
Saad El Din also verified this. She told The Caravan that although Pedersen's purchases were not completely useless, they were not groundbreaking either.
"I cannot say they are of little value, but what I can say is that they are not unique, meaning that there are so many copies of Egypt of these pieces. That does not mean that they are of little value. They are valuable, if you look at them in isolation, but they are not unique in the sense that it's one out of thousands in Egypt," she said.
A confidential source as well as records at the SCA showed The Caravan documents describing the pieces in AUC's collection.
They include: two boxes of ancient currency, three boxes of parts of Pharaonic coffins, one hundred and fifty dossiers of clothes, mainly Coptic, wooden statues, clay statues, three boxes of ceramic pieces, and others.
George Scanlon's excavations:
Together Scanlon's findings and Pedersen's purchases made up AUC's antiquities collection.
Scanlon refused several times to speak to The Caravan about AUC's antiquities or his own excavations saying that he "did not want to get involved with it all" and that "it is useless what you are trying to do... You are trying to embarrass the administration."
However, The Caravan was able to obtain some information on Scanlon's findings.
In 1964, Scanlon started his excavations in Fustat in old Cairo.
Lawrence R. Murphy's book, "The American University in Cairo 1919 - 1987," published by AUC's press in 1987, explains in page 255 that this was part of a major project at the time.
"Funds from the American Research Center in Egypt, the Corning Museum of Glass, and the Fogg Museum of Harvard University, made it possible to undertake an intensive study of an important mound known as Fustat-C by terms of international scholars over several years," Murphy wrote.
He also lists some of the project's findings.
"Besides recovering numerous artifacts including textiles and written documents, the investigation yielded important information about medieval architectural styles," he said.
Scanlon's last excavation season in Fustat was in 1980.
Saad El Din said that at the time, Scanlon was allowed to keep a percentage of the findings of his excavations.
"I do not think that they were included with the register that we had for Dr. Pedersen's collection. I have no idea what he did with them," she said.
Weeks said that Scanlon mainly used his collection for educational purposes in his classes.
"Dr. Scanlon's teaching collection, which he used in his classes on Islamic pottery, I'm guessing that it would have included a few dozen pieces of pottery," he said.
However, it seems there has been a lot of confusing between Scanlon's and Pippin's collections.
Robert Pippin, who had a great interest in history, art and antiquities, started collecting pieces in Egypt around 1966.
The Pippin collection is mainly divided into two: a Greco-Roman collection made up of ancient lamps and terracottas, and an Islamic shards collection.
However, their collection also included Coptic cloth, Egyptian pre-dynastic pieces, and Islamic wood carvings.
Karma Pippin said that among the Islamic pieces, "One item is too long to box, so it sits by itself with the packed collection: a portion of a painted and gilt panel from the [Fatimid] mosque of Al-Hakim."
Pippin's collection was given as an indefinite loan to AUC under the name of Karma Pippin. They are not AUC property. Pippin can transfer them to any Egyptian museum or learned institution.
Registering the collections
In 1983, law 117 was issued, outlawing trading in Egyptian antiquities and requiring those who owned them to register them with SCA. It also outlawed transporting antiquities out of the country.
According to a confidential source, in 1984 Pedersen tried to take some of his purchases with him to New York to show the board of trustees, having been unaware of law 117. Security officials stopped him at the airport.
A series of letters between AUC and SCA officials sent soon after shows that AUC applied to register its collection with SCA after the incident.
The Egyptian government sent over experts to perform an initial inventory before the registration process could go underway. The antiquities had been kept in room number 215 in Pedersen's office until then, and Saad El Din had the keys.
"I worked with a group of historians from the authority, the antiquities authority, and we catalogued, we registered, we took photos of every single piece that we had," Saad El Din said.
In 1985, Karma Pippin came back to AUC to register her husband's collection, who had passed away by then. The collection had also stayed in Egypt abiding by the laws back then.
According to Pippin, the Greco-Roman pieces, and other objects in the collection, were independently registered with SCA under her name, as an indefinite loan to AUC, while the Islamic shard collection was falsely registered alongside Pedersen and Scanlon's findings as belonging to AUC without her permission.
"The Pippin shard collection was also indefinitely loaned to AUC, with an inventory that George Scanlon reviewed against the objects [...] Despite the loan papers, the Pippin shards and Scanlon Fustat shards became confused in two ways" she said.
Pippin says that Pedersen had a team register her shard collection with the SCA under the name "Pippin Collection" but as the property of AUC, later telling her that he thought she had donated them to the university.
She also says that some antiquities that were not part of her collection were falsely registered as such.
"[Pedersen] mailed me a copy of the registry book, and its photos revealed poor quality objects that had never been ours, along with the dregs of our own collection. [He] promised to have this straightened out, but it probably is still thus," she said.
Furthermore, she says that Scanlon used part of her collection that was not registered for teaching.
"Later it turned out that George was using most of these shards in classes, not identified as mine nor with its inventory, and many shards were the worse for wear," she said.
The Museum Project
Pedersen had originally intended to put the antiquities collection on display.
"He had great hopes, great dreams," Saad El Din said, "He wanted to have a museum, like many universities in the [United] States and Europe... and he wanted this museum to be accessible to the students for their studies, and to the professors for their classes and to outsiders to see what we have."
Weeks confirmed Pedersen's aspirations to The Caravan.
"I believe that President Pedersen's idea was to obtain material, archaeological material that could be displayed in a small museum at AUC. And in fact, if I remember correctly, one of the reasons why AUC acquired what later became the Rare Books Library [in Sheikh Rihan street] was because they wanted to use that building, or at least part of that building, as an archaeological museum," he said.
Meeting minutes from Pedersen's records in the AUC's archives, dating from early 1990's, show discussions between members of a committee formed to work on establishing the Rare Books Library, about how a museum would be formed in the building.
Members of the committee included Pedersen himself, Board of Trustees member Marie-Claire Bond, Former AUC President Cecil K. Byrd, The American University of Beirut Museum Curator Leila Badre, Former Director of the Islamic Museum Abdel Raouf Aly Hassan, Former Head of SCA Zahi Hawass, and others.
The meeting minutes show that Pedersen suggested that, "display cabinets could display manuscripts and artifacts in the main hall as well as in the museum."
The committee members were also concerned about access to the museum.
"If there is limited access to the library, will a separate public access to the museum be created?" they asked.
It seems there was a space problem at the time. The minutes show Laila Badre saying, "Museum should serve those who use the collection... The room is not big enough for large divider/displays."
The AUC Rare Books Library was inaugurated in 1992. The museum was never formed, however.
Saad El Din said that she thinks it might have been financial and technical issues that prevented forming a museum.
"A museum is not just a room with secure windows," she said, "It has to be well ventilated and temperature is in control, I mean controlled by some device. I mean it's a complicated and very expensive endeavour, very expensive."
Today, SCA has refused AUC's request to display five pieces on campus. SCA officials said this is against law 117 that only allows Egyptian universities to display antiquities.
However, it is unclear whether the committee back in the early 1990's is aware of this and if this was the real reason behind the failure of Pedersen's museum.
The Pippin collection's fate
Karma Pippin had been hoping to have her collection displayed at AUC to commemorate her husband.
However, she said that Weeks at one point suggested to her that she should transfer them to the Greco-Roman Museum in Alexandria.
Between 1998 and 1999 she came back to Egypt and met AUC's president at the time John D. Gerhart in order to work on transferring the material. However, Gerhart convinced her against it saying that AUC's new campus will have a special display area for the collection in the Performing and Visual Arts building. This was never actualized.
Pippin returned to the U.S. after that and tried communicating with President David Arnold on the fate of her collection, but nothing has happened.
Furthermore, Pippin says no one from the AUC administration informed her of the theft, even though SCA had announced that 63 pieces of Pippin's collection were stolen out of the total 145 pieces.
Over time, knowledge of the antiquities faded, with most of those knowing about them retiring, passing away or leaving AUC in one way or another.
They were stored in a warehouse underneath Ewart Hall back in the Tahrir Square campus in 1994, never to be heard about again until the 2010 theft of a reported 145 pieces was revealed in March 2011.
Since then, AUC President Lisa Anderson has formed an Arts Review Committee headed by Egyptology professor and Chair of the Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology and Egyptology department Salima Ikram.
Ikram is scheduled to finally review the collection, which is now stored in the parcel 17 area of the New Cairo campus, on Wednesday May 2.
Next week The Caravan will try to sit down with Ikram in order to provide more details on the nature of the pieces and how valuable they are, as well as perhaps try to identify which pieces were stolen in the conclusion to this series.