IT was like a scene from an old Hammer Studios mummy movie in London tonight when Christie's auctioned off a 4,500-year-old Egyptian statue to an undisclosed buyer for a whopping $27 million dollars ... more than twice the anticipated value.
Protesters chanted outside the prestigious auction house ... an Egyptian diplomat scowled in dismay ... officials warned of dire consequences to the English museum which put the statue up for sale. And there had even been croakings of doom and the threat that an Ancient Egyptian curse might befall those who sold it ... as well as the new owner.
All that was missing from the scene was a bolt of lightning and crack of thunder when the gavel came down on the purchase of the statue of Sekhemka.
At the focus of the controversy is a small statue less than three feet tall (75 cm) which has been in a museum in Northampton England since the 19th Century, but which local officials felt forced to part with in order to help fund a large expansion of the museum.
Originally the statue would have been placed in Sekhemka’s tomb chapel as a "living image" for visits from priests and members of his family to honour his memory and leave offerings to sustain him in the afterlife.
Sekhemka was a late 5th Dynasty Inspector of scribes, and served his pharaoh ... possibly king Unas ... around 2400 BC … shortly after the Pyramids were built.
It was obtained by the Second Marquis of Northampton in 1850.
It was taken off display at Northampton Museum in 2010 after officials learned it could be worth millions.
Local council officials said they had no choice but to sell it because keeping it would require millions to provide proper security and round-the-clock guards.
Archaeologists around the world decried the sale, calling it scandalous and detrimental to efforts to preserve the world's cultural heritage.
They warned that the fund-raising effort might backfire because the Northampton Museum could now loose government cultural subsidies due to the sale.
Protestors gathered outside Christie's before the sale said they wanted the statue to be returned to Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities.
Sue Edwards, from the Save Sekhemka Action Group, who travelled from Northampton to the auction, said: "This is the darkest cultural day in the town's history.
"The local authority has made a huge mistake but we will continue our fight to save Sekhemka."
The Egyptian ambassador to Britain said the council should have handed the statue back if it did not want it.
"A museum should not be a store. Sekhemka belongs to Egypt and if Northampton Borough Council does not want it then it must be given back," Egyptian Ambassador Ahsraf Elkholy said.
"It's not ethical that it will be sold for profit and also not acceptable. The council should have consulted with the Egyptian government," Cairo's ambassador said in an emotional plea.
Christie's said it would reveal details of the new owner later, according to the BBC.
Leaders of the Liberal Democrat opposition group tried to block the sale this week by calling for Sekhemka to be put back on display at Northampton Museum.
Yet the Conservative leaders of the council blocked their efforts, prompting Liberal Democrat leader, Councillor Brendan Glynane to declare they should be cursed.
He said: "I've read there is a curse attached to Sekhemka and if it should fall on anyone, it should fall on this administration for not having the courage to change their minds."
He was apparently referring to a popular novel entitled THE CURSE OF SEKHEMKA by Matthew Messina.
Amidst the furore, the Priests of Antinous do not condemn the sale outright. But we caution that it sets a potentially dangerous precedent ... particularly against the backdrop of rampant looting and pillaging of archaeological treasures in Egypt.
It is entirely possible that Sekhemka's new owner will be a worthy steward and will ensure the safety of this sacred statue.
We join our friends at Jeff Burzacott's HIEROGLYPHICA (who provided the transliteration of Sekhemka's name above) in a fervent prayer that Sekhemka has "a joyous and abundant after life in his new home ... wherever that may be."