Putting a lid on ancient Egyptian story

By IH Tuesday 06 November 2012 Updated: 12/11 11:03

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Buy photos » The Egyptian coffin lid with the colourful history. (s)

FROM Egypt, via a railway station to Leamington Art Gallery and Museum - an ancient artefact is set for another chapter in its long and strange history.

Warwick District Council is set to give the green-light next week for the presentation of a 2,500 year-old Egyptian mummy coffin lid to Birmingham University.

The origins of the painted wooden sarcophagus lid are shrouded in a certain amount of mystery. Created in the land of the Pharaohs 550 years before the birth of Christ, it is not known whose coffin lid it was, but somehow it became lost property at a Staffordshire railway station in 1960.

It was subsequently donated to Leamington Art Gallery and Museum, then based next to the old library in Avenue Road. It was given by then Leamington Spa Borough councillor Dr TA Dorey, a member of the art gallery and museum committee, and also lecturer in classics at Birmingham University. He explained at the time how it came into his possession.

"From what I have been told, it was found abandoned on Tamworth Railway Station. The stationmaster took charge of it a while before passing it on to Professor Thompson (Birmingham University) who, upon his retirement, gave it to Professor Dudley (also Birmingham University).

Dr Dorey ' begged' the lid from Professor Dudley when it needed a 'good home' after the university's classics department moved to new offices.

And a little later the then Vice Chancellor of Birmingham University is reported to have donated the coffin lid to Leamington museum.

The lid was on display for some years at the Avenue Road museum, but following a 1990 refurbishment, and a new focus on paintings, it was taken off display.

As the museum did not have the necessary storage space, or expertise to care for it, it was loaned to Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, where it was put on display as part of Birmingham's major collection of Egyptian artefacts.

But in a further twist, while on display the Curator of the Collections at Birmingham University recognised the lid as one excavated at Beni Hasan in central Egypt by archaeologists from Liverpool University, and presented to Birmingham University in 1904.

In 2000 it was agreed, with the consent of all parties, the lid should be transferred on loan to Birmingham University. The university conserved it at a cost of £1,300 an had a bespoke display case made, and ever since it has been exhibited in the university's Institute of Archeology and Antiquity Museum.

The university recently called on Warwick District Council for its permanent return, supporting the claim with letters from 1904 testifying to the university's rightful ownership.

And councillors on the district's executive committee are expected to rubber-stamp the official handover of ownership on Wednesday (November 14).

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