In 1994, when he began his tenure as director of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, Terry G. Wilfong, along with Professor Janet Richards, surveyed the contents of the Kelsey's Dynastic Egyptian collection, which was then in storage. Among their findings, they encountered one unusual object, a New Kingdom funerary relief (also known as a stela), that they used in their first Kelsey exhibition, "Preserving Eternity."
"Little did we know at the time that this artifact would be part of an international scholarly quest resulting in its permanent relocation to Berlin," says Wilfong.
The stela, which is more than 3,000 years old, was lost during World War II. It made its way to the Kelsey through a donation in 1981 by Dr. Samuel A. Goudsmit, who was a well-known physicist and professor at U-M, as well as an amateur Egyptologist.
A few years ago, while doing research in the Kelsey's archives, Dutch Egyptologist Nico Staring pointed out the the stela resembled one said to be missing from the Egyptian Museum Berlin. After careful comparison, it was determined to be one and the same, and the Kelsey began the complicated process of returning it to the Berlin museum.
"Now, after more than 70 years, [the stele] will once again take its place in the permanent exhibition of the Egyptian Museum of Berlin," said Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, who expressed his gratitude.
German authorities have agreed to provide a 3D scan of the stela, which the Kelsey plans to use to create a replica. In addition, Wilfong has begun to use the unusual story of the stela in his teaching, most recently in a seminar called "Exhibiting Ancient Egypt."