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The Unspeakable Saint Louis Art Museum Egyptian Mask

Mummy Mask of the Lady Ka-Nefer-Nefer, Collection of the Saint Louis Art Museum

We love the Saint Louis Art Museum. We go out of our way to avoid scrutiny from the Department of Homeland Security. And we try never to tick off an Egyptologist—they know all the best curses. But when we read SLAM had filed suit against the U.S. government to hold onto the mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer—which Egypt insists must be returned—we thought we ought to learn more about that 3,200-year-old funerary mask.

We called the museum, which declined to comment. We called Wash. U., which insisted it had no one qualified to comment. (Odd, we thought. They’ll comment on almost anything.) We emailed a famous Egyptologist at the University of Chicago. No reply. We called the Oriental Institute, whose researcher referred us to an Egyptologist at Emory University. She replied that she is so busy, “even a 10-minute phone call is impossible.” We called another Egyptologist, who told us no one would want to talk under any circumstances.

“Canada?” we asked. “What about someone in Canada?”

“Wouldn’t make a difference. It’s about repatriation.” She recommended two Egyptologists who always comment. One referred us to the other, who turned out to be the man who’d raised the first red flag about the mask’s provenance, and who said things we could not quote.

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