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Page last updated at 15:40 GMT, Tuesday, 19 October 2010 16:40 UK
Ancient mummified hand to be auctioned in Newcastle
Mummified hand
It's thought the hand is about 2000 years old

Staff at a Newcastle auction house have been a little nervous of late, refusing to do anything that means being in the building on their own.

The reason is a 2000-year-old mummified hand which they'll be auctioning in December.

It comes in its own glass-covered, mahogany box but is far from the prettiest thing the company have sold.

It's claimed it's the hand of Queen Cleopatra - though the auctioneers can't yet guarantee which one.

Andrew McCoull, from Anderson and Garland, says: "The hand itself is what can only be described as a yellowy, leathery colour.

"It's a lady's hand, a left hand, with manicured fingernails which are still there and evidence of what was possibly a ring on one of her fingers - there's a sort of a dark patch - but, all in all, it's a pretty gruesome looking object."

The real queen?

The hand - remarkably well preserved - reputedly belonged to the famous Queen Cleopatra but Mr McCoull needs further evidence to support that claim.

The ancient Egyptians seem to have had a habit of giving any old mummified hand to visiting dignitaries.

He says: "It's got an interesting history. It surfaced in Kirkby Stephen in 1894 and it is documented all the way back to its presentation to General Bowser in Egypt in 1794.

"It was then believed to be presented as Queen Cleopatra's hand, although there were several Queen Cleopatras.

"We don't really know at this stage if this is the famous one."

Rare sale

Card from box containing mummified hand
The hand seems to have provenance - but which Cleopatra is it?

No-one could pretend the hand is pleasant to look at though it obviously has potential historical interest.

The auction house hope to do more research before the sale, possibly contacting The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo to see whether this could be 'the' Cleopatra's hand.

They have no idea who might want to buy it. Mr McCoull admits: "It is pretty gruesome. But, bearing in mind it is over 2000 years old, it's got a good right to be looking pretty gruesome I think."

The sale is on Wednesday, 8 December and, between now and then, Anderson and Garland have to decide what the guide price should be.

Normally it's based on what similar objects have sold for in the past but Mr McCoull says that doesn't help in this case: "I'm not aware of any mummified hand of any description coming up for sale, certainly in my memory, and that goes back quite a long way, unfortunately.

"So I think we'd be having a stab at probably somewhere in the region of a £1000."

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