Sometime in the early 1920's a Cairo antique dealer, M.A. Mansoor,
bought two small limestone portraits, ostensibly from the Amarna Period,
from a fellow dealer, Tawadros Guirgis Ghoubrial. Mansoor who had
established his business in 1904 -- a business he held for fifty years,
and in which he developed a distinguished reputation -- knew that the
objects had been rejected by another well-established Cairo dealer, on
the grounds that they could not be genuine because the seller had not
asked high enough a price. To Mansoor, the two pieces showed a thin,
slightly glossy patina, a number of dendrites on worked surfaces, and a
high degree of artisanship of the style associated with the Amarna
period; he judged them to be genuine.
Over the years, Mansoor purchased over 100 pieces - heads, busts,
reliefs, statuettes and fragments, all of pink, reddish and white
foraminiferous limestone. They were kept separate from his other
antiquities with which he dealt in his normal activities as a dealer, and
which did not constitute as specific an entity as the Amarna group.
By 1938, his Amarna collection began to attract wide attention. Mansoor
who had been appointed antique dealer to the late King Farouk,- who at
the time was interested in archaeology- sold the king a few pieces. As
word about the collection began to spread, other pieces were purchased by
well-to-do Egyptian and foreign collectors. Mansoor thus continued to
finance the acquisition of additional objects. Some jealous dealers now
began to spread rumors of forgery about the collection on the grounds that
they were too good to be authentic.
The late Abbe' Etienne Drioton, one of the great scholars of
Egyptology and Director General of the Department of Antiquities in Egypt
at the time, sought to acquire the collection for the Egyptian Museum, on
the eve of World War II. In connection with this objective, the
collection was submitted to Mr. Alfred Lucas, Director of the Chemical
Department of Egypt, Honorary Consulting Chemist to the Department of
Antiquities and author of a classic work on Ancient Egyptian Materials
and Industry. His brief report left no doubt as to the authenticity of
the objects.They were classed as genuine antiquities that , according to
Lucas, were "probably found, not in a grave,or buried in the earth, but
in a room at El Amarna, which was gradually sanded up." This, he
indicated, accounted for the excellent condition of most of the pieces.
In 1947, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, through its curator of
Egyptology, asked Mr. Mansoor to allow them to examine a few pieces, for
the purpose of purchasing them. Accordingly Mr. Mansoor sent two of his
sons to New York, with a few pieces from the collection.
The curator was unable to arrive at a decision and asked that the
pieces be submitted to William J. Young, then a consultant to the Boston
Museum of Fine Arts, for petrological and chemical tests. What the
Mansoors did not know was that Mr. Young had little or no experience with
Egyptian antiquities--his specialty was the critical analysis of
Young's preliminary finding was a shock: "The results of the various
examinations we have given the heads indicate that the heads are of a
modern origin. The larger of the two heads was examined from a minute
fragment and appears not to be a natural material. It shows all the
indications of being a made stone which could be fabricated in a great
many ways. The heads in question did not show any indication of age from
Ultraviolet or microscopic examination."
"In my opinion, the above heads are of a fairly modern origin. A full
report will follow in the near future."
Now, it is not difficult to distinguish foraminiferous limestone,
which has tiny shells imbedded in the limestone matrix, from a "made"
stone by a simple examination with a magnifying glass. Routine chemical
analysis would dispel any doubt. When challenged on this point, Young
sought the advice of Prof. E.S. Larsen, Professor of Geology at Harvard
University. Professor Larsen quickly determined that the Amarna pieces
were indeed natural stone, and several months later Mr. Young finally
reversed himself on this point. However, at the insistence of the
prospective buyer (The Metropolitan Museum of Art), Young was allowed to
proceed with his examination and it was another year and a half before
the promised report was issued.
Young's report gives the results of examination by ultraviolet light,
and low power microscope. The report contains many conclusory statements
to the effect that the objects are "of fairly modern origin," but it
never provides any factual or rational evidence for this assertion. The
value of ultraviolet examination of limestone has never been demonstrated
in any publication.
This development was quite unexpected. Even though the report, as a
scientific statement was valueless, this would not necessarily be obvious
to the non-scientist. Moreover, Young occupied a conspicuous position in
one of the great museums of the United States.
In Egypt, the impact of the Young report was not as significant at the
time. The Department of Antiquities was still interested and the Abbe'
Drioton, its director, was still determined to acquire the collection for
the Egyptian Museum. Being a foreigner, and moreover a dignitary of an
alien church, his tenure was not without political difficulties,
especially in cases such as this, which involved large sums of money. To
remove any doubt in the case, the objects were subjected to the best
analyses available. The leading archaeological chemist in Egypt, now that
Lucas had died, was Dr. Zaki Iskandar. He was Chief Chemist of the Museum
Laboratories; and it was he and his assistant Dr. Zahira Mustafa who were
charged with making a detailed report on the authenticity of the objects.
The analysis -- chemical and petrological -- certified the authenticity
of the objects, but the Egyptian Museum did not acquire them. The report
came out in November 1950, and before the negotiations could be completed
and the decision on the large sums of money involved could be made, the
old regime (of King Farouk) was overthrown and the new regime was not in
a position to purchase expensive antiques.
For several years there was a lull in activities relating to the El
Amarna Collection. There was unrest in Egypt, and those of the sons of
M.A. Mansoor who were in the United States were busy trying to get
established there. However, they became increasingly aware of trouble
selling not only the objects in question but also their other antiques.
They decided to get at the source of the difficulty, and to attempt a
generally recognized vindication of their El Amarna Collection. It
occurred to them that scientific evidence had been recognized in many
notorious cases of forgery and authentication, so sixteen additional
experts in the fields that were thought most pertinent to the case were
approached during the following years. The objective was to develop
irrefutable evidence relating to the true age of the Amarna artifacts,
from as many diverse sources as possible. Authorities in fields that
might be useful in providing such evidence applied relevant techniques.
The investigation was not routine in any way.
All of the investigating scientists submitted reports which led to
only one conclusion: the El Amarna objects were ancient artifacts. Some
of these scientists directly commented upon and criticized the Young
report--many denouncing it in quite harsh terms. When confronted with the
evidence, Young did not respond to the Mansoors and never defended his
report. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts also preferred to ignore the new
evidence. It is ironic that the prospective buyer -- The Metropolitan
Museum -- never bothered to consider the new evidence.
Meanwhile, most scholars of Egyptology and Museums Directors, preferred
to stay on the sideline. In fact, only one credentialed Egyptologist --
Hans Wolfgang Muller of the University of Munich -- has offered a
professional opinion of the collection. After viewing photographs of the
objects, he declared that they were not ancient. Dr. Muller's arguments
were effectively destroyed by scientists at the Universite' Pierre &
Marie Curie (Sorbonne), other scholars of Egyptology, and Dr. Zaki
Iskandar. In the United States, John D. Cooney of the Brooklyn Museum,
and later at the Cleveland Museum, also declared that the objects were
of recent origin, but he based his opinion solely on William J. Young's
What makes this case very intriguing is that several scholars and
Museum directors, who have never examined or even seen the collection
have pronounced it a forgery. They have tended to rely on the discredited
opinions of Young and Muller and the hearsay of others.
No other ancient artifacts have ever been submitted to as many or as
varied tests as the Mansoor Amarna Collection. As it stands, the Mansoors
have 19 scientists' opinions, favoring the authenticity of the objects
and refuting Young's report. On the scholars' front, seven scholars have
authenticated the collection, as against Muller's sole negative
This controversy was started in the United States and was allowed to
degenerate into an international conspiracy by the actions of the few who
have adopted a prejudiced attitude. However, the owners of the collection
-- the Mansoors -- will not allow them to destroy what they regard as one
of the most historically important archeological discoveries of this
Controversies in the art world are not new and many scholars have made
some fateful mistakes -- one way or the other -- but only a few have ever
had the courage to admit their mistakes. It is unfortunate that Mr.
Young, after his initial inept examination of the objects, did not have
the courage to admit his mistake. In good faith, the Mansoors allowed Mr.
Young to continue examining the objects even after Harvard's Professor
Larsen conclusively demonstrated that Young had botched the elementary
determination of whether the objects were composed of natural stone.
However, rather than take that opportunity to set the record straight,
Young chose to cloud it even further, to nurse his own ego, by declaring
the collection a forgery even though he could offer no scientific
evidence to substantiate his claim. The result of Mr. Young's decision,
and that of the Boston M.F.A., is this: the world has been robbed of a
collection of extraordinary art that would add immeasurably to our
knowledge of the Amarna period. By aiding Mr. Young in hiding the truth,
those Egyptologists who have offered opinions without having seen the
collection have revealed themselves as mere dilettantes--more interested
in playing the role of Egyptologist than in genuinely studying the
art and history of Ancient Egypt.
This was a brief history of the Mansoor Amarna Collection. For a more
detailed history of the Collection, we refer the reader to The
Scandal of the Century - The Mansoor Amarna Expose, by Christine
Mansoor, Carlton Press, New York, NY.
For a deeper understanding of the importance of the Tel El Amarna
period in the History of Ancient Egypt we refer the reader to:
- Donald B. Redford, Akhenaten: The Heretic King (Princeton University Press 1984).
- Cyril Aldred, Akhenaten & Nefertiti.(Viking Press 1973).
- Cyril Aldred, Akhenaten, King of Egypt (Thames and Hudson 1988).