In early January, Scotland's National Museum surprised the world by announcing the opening of an exhibition that would include a stone from the outer layer of the Great Pyramid of Giza on February 8.
The museum said in a statement that the opening is held to celebrate the 200th birthday of the Scottish archaeologist Charles Piazzi Smyth, who arranged the import of the stone from Egypt to the United Kingdom about 147 years ago.
The announcement sparked controversy in the archaeological circles. The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities requested the museum through the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to prove the legitimacy of its possession of the stone.
For its part, the museum dealt confidently with the Egyptian request before it officially received it. Two days before the opening of the exhibition, the Museum's Director Gordon Rintoul confirmed to the Guardian newspaper that the stone was not stolen by the Scottish antiquarian, and that they are perfectly satisfied that there’s no issue of it being traded somehow illicitly.
Susan Gray, the museum's spokesperson, told Asharq Al-Awsat, that "the museum has received the Egyptian government's request through the Egyptian embassy, and it has responded with the documents proving that the stone has been legally imported from Egypt."
"The ownership of the stone has been fully documented in Scotland since 1872 but, it has never been displayed before. Apparently, the Egyptian authorities didn’t have any idea about the artifact before the announcement of the exhibition," Gray noted.
"The stone is now part of the exhibition's collection, which opened on February 8, and aims to highlight the evolution of the ancient Egyptian civilization through history. It is one of the artifacts that can help explain the story of the pyramids' construction."
For its part, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities announced that it has not yet received an official response from the Scottish Museum. "We requested to verify the museum's documents proving the possession or ownership of this stone, and we are waiting for its response," Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, general supervisor of the ministry's repatriation department, told Asharq Al-Awsat.
"We will not issue any response before we see and verify the documents."
For his part, Egyptian archaeologist and former antiquities minister Dr. Zahi Hawass said that the displayed stone is not from "the Great Pyramid", suggesting it is just a valueless stone obtained from the pyramids region.
"The pyramid's upper layer had eroded with years, and we have no picture for it. How did this piece reach the Scottish Museum?" Hawass asked.
In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat he expressed surprise at the museum's statement about the legal import of the stone.
Hawass asserted that the stone is fake, yet, he praised the Antiquities Ministry’s serious efforts in tackling the issue. "We may eventually find ourselves dealing with a fraud that exploits the Egyptian civilization," he said.