"Egyptian history is not for sale" is what signs carried by protesters read outside of Christie's in London. But apparently it was, as a controversial auction of a King Tut bust was carried out Thursday, fetching nearly $6 million, Reuters reports. At issue regarding the 3,000-year-old, 11-inch-high quartzite sculpture of Tutankhamun, presented as the ancient god Amun, is that Egyptian officials say it may have been lifted from the Karnak temple complex in the '70s, then smuggled out of the country, and therefore belongs back in Egypt. Before the auction, antiquities experts there insisted that Christie's either dig up paperwork that could prove the statue exited Egypt legally or return the bust to Egypt. But the auction went on, though the controversy may have scared off bidders: Per the New York Times, "competition was subdued" for the statue, which spurred "just two hesitant bids" from anonymous parties.
The Times lays out the details behind the hubbub, which is tied to confusion on who legitimately owned the sculpture before 1970, the year a UNESCO convention was put into place to prevent illegal trade of cultural pieces—and the same year Egyptian officials believe the statue was swiped out of Egypt. The statue has been part of the German Resandro collection since 1985. "The sale of such precious Egyptian artifacts is a huge shame," Tarek Adel, Egypt's ambassador to the UK, said in a statement, adding Christie's was showing "a deep lack of respect." Although the auction house concedes such artifacts "can raise complex discussions about the past," it says it did everything legally required to sell the piece and that this is the first time Egypt is laying claim to the statue, despite it being displayed publicly for years, per the BBC. (Read more Tutankhamun stories.)