A stone sculpture of, thought to be more than 3,000 years old, is now at the center of an international dispute. The bust of the revered boy king is set to be auctioned off on Thursday in London by the auction company Christie's, for an expected $5 million -- but Egypt's government says the artifact was stolen and wants the sale stopped.
Egyptian antiquities are on display at museums around the world. But King Tutankhamun holds a special place in Egyptian culture. So when his head showed up on Christie's auction block, the controversy kicked off.
"I really believe that Christie's should have some ethics," said former Egyptian antiquities minister Zahi Hawass. "This is a head of a famous king that Egypt and the whole world love. How can you put a head of that king to be on sale? And they never tell us about the origin, about how they bought it from Egypt, who has ownership of this piece."
The bust might have remained locked inside King Tut's tomb forever had the tomb not have been discovered intact with all its treasures in the 1920s by British archeologist Howard Carter. Christie's contends the bust is under rightful ownership of a private collection in Germany since 1985 after passing through several hands since the 1960s.
"Christies is at the forefront of the protection of historical objects. This piece has been widely published and exhibited, it's a very well-known piece …" said Laetitia Delaloye of Christie's. "So there hasn't been any claim on the piece, and we haven't received any evidence from the Egyptian authorities about a problem."
How it found its way to Europe is still something of a mystery. But Egyptian authorities insist it was looted, and that Christie's has failed to prove otherwise. "We will fight until the head of Tutankhamun our great famous king should come back," Hawass said.
Cairo feels so strongly about this sale that the ambassador in London made a complaint. The relevant U.K. government office said they expect all sales to go in accordance with the law and that this is a matter for Christie's.