Buying Egyptian Artifacts

Mary Barile
Ancient Egyptian Piece

Many people are fascinated by ancient Egyptian culture, and flock to exhibits and shows where rare statues and grave goods are displayed. While the most widely-recognized and valuable artifacts from Ancient Egypt are on display in museums around the world, there are opportunities for you to start your own collection and enjoy a rare chance to touch the past.

Egyptian Artifacts and Dealers

The solid gold death mask of King Tutankhamen is among the most widely-recognized Egyptian artifacts, but the common man and woman were also buried with personal possessions. Masks were placed over a mummy's face so that the dead would be recognized in the next world. Other artifacts were found with mummies, such as amulets made of pottery and gems tucked into the linen wrappings for protection. Today, dealers offer Egyptian artifacts for sale online, where you can purchase just about any ancient item.

Beads

Glass, gold, gems and pottery beads were produced, traded and used by the Egyptians. Oftentimes, when a sarcophagus was opened two thousand years after the owner's death, beads were found spread across the mummy wrappings; this happened when the string decayed and turned to dust. These beads are treasured by Egyptian art collectors, and can still be purchased at Ancient Beads and Artifacts, an online retailer specializing in items from the ancient world ranging in price from $100 and up.

Scarabs

Scarabs were a special kind of amulet, shaped like the scarab or dung beetle. The beetle pushed along a ball of dung, and for the Egyptians this represented the sun moving across the sky. Scarabs were worn for protection and buried with the dead, and scarabs more than 2,000 years old can be found at Ancient Resource which offers collectibles, rarities and artifacts from around the world.

Statues

Bronze and metal statues often depict gods or pharaohs. Artemis Galleries has examples starting at $1800.

ushabtis

Small statues, called "ushabtis" were buried with the dead, but were expected to come to life in the next world and work as servants to the deceased. They are still available at Et Tu Antiquities, starting at $100.

Vessels

Vessels were often used to hold perfumes and makeup, and were made from glass, stone and gems. Trocadaro is an online shop in Denmark that carries Egyptian rarities, including this stone vessel for $850.

Wood

Wood was carved into dioramas complete with buildings, workers and equipment for baking, weaving and other crafts. These small figures are very rare, but sometimes show up in dealer listings, such as this one from Museum Surplus.

Coins

Ancient Egyptian coins on today's market often come from Cleopatra's time. At Museum Surplus, coins (and other artifacts) can be examined close up, with prices starting at $190.

Written Pieces

Hieroglyphs and papyrus are among the most famous Egyptian artifacts and Arte Mission carries some examples for purchase costing around $1000 to $1500.

Authentication

Buying ancient Egyptian artifacts presents problems for the shopper, among them determining whether the artifacts are original or fakes. It is not easy. Descendants of Egyptian artisans still create reproductions for the tourist trade. Forgers still use ancient materials to create new "old" items for sale. Add into this the fact that many countries, including Egypt, do not want their heritage being sold out from under them - in the case of Egyptian art and artifacts, anything smuggled out of Egypt before 1972 must be returned to the country. So, what to do?

  • Research: Do as much of it as you can, so you know what you are going to purchase.
  • Authenticate: This may involve several steps. First, scientific tests analyze the item's composition and make sure it is stone, not painted cement. You should be able to examine the provenance, or ownership history of the item, which might consist of sales receipts, auction catalogs listing the item, or photographs of the item a century ago, demonstrating that the item did, in fact, exist. You might hire an appraiser or antiquities expert to look at the item before you purchase it, and give you a written report. Authentication is an art, but it can save you from losing a lot of money.

Tips for Shoppers

Even experts can be fooled; museums are constantly re-evaluating their collections and checking for fakes as new technology becomes available. You may not be able to avoid all mistakes, but here a few tips to consider when buying ancient antiquities:

  • Avoid online auctions unless you have done business with the dealer before. There are too many fakes out there to take a chance.
  • Ask whether you can return the item should it turn out to be a fake. Reputable dealers will stand behind their stock.
  • Visit museums and look at ancient art. There is nothing like seeing the original to help train your eye to bad fakes, although there's little you can do about well-made fakes.
  • Certificates of authenticity mean nothing. Ask for proof of provenance - who owned the piece and where has it been. You could purchase something illegally, without knowing it.
  • These items are very, very old. Read the descriptions carefully, and examine the photographs or the object. Know about the flaws before you buy.

Keep in mind that with this particular type of collection, bargains simply don't happen. Expect to pay high prices for almost all ancient artifacts.

Patience and Research

Take your time to do your homework, find a reputable dealer willing to answer your questions, and buy the best item you can afford. Even a modest collection will reveal much to you about the history and people of 2000 B.C.E.

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Buying Egyptian Artifacts