A 3,000-year-old bust of King Tutankhamun that sparked a tug-of-war between Egypt and the auction house Christie’s sold Thursday in London for $6 million.
Government officials in Cairo claim the 11-inch bronze quartzite object was probably stolen from Egypt decades ago, and they demanded the auction be called off.
“We think it left Egypt after 1970 because in that time other artifacts were stolen from Karnak Temple,” former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass told AFP.
The auction house said the relic, part of a private collection, had been on display numerous times over the years without any complaint and that there was nothing improper about the sale.
“The object is not, and has not been, the subject of an investigation,” it said in a statement.
Christie’s claimed to have clear proof of ownership of the bust of the boy ruler whose remains were found in 1922—but a report by Live Science last month cast doubt on its chronology.
By the auction house’s account, the late Prince Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis had owned the bust since the 1960s and sold it in the mid-1970s to a Vienna gallery owner.
But Wilhelm’s son and niece, as well as a historian who knew him well, said he never owned the bust and wasn’t even that interested in art collecting, Live Science reported.
A Christie’s official told the site the son and niece would have been too young to know if Wilhelm owned the figure and suggested the prince inherited it.
“His grandfather, Prince Alexander Thurn und Taxis, traveled extensively to Africa and brought back objects; and great grandfather, Count Hans Wilczek, is also known to have had a large collection which included antiquities,” Catherine Manson, global head of corporate affairs at Christie’s, told the site.