A gilded coffin that dated back to the Ptolemaic dynasty, dissolved in 50 B.C., was displayed on Tuesday in the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo’s Fustat district.
The coffin of Nedjemankh, an ancient Egyptian priest, was returned to Egypt on Wednesday after it was determined to be a looted antiquity, said Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, Khaled al-Anany in a press conference and reported by Xinhua.
The coffin was featured at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art after being bought from a Paris art dealer in 2017 for about US$4 million.
The coffin was smuggled by fraudulent documents including a forged 1971 Egyptian export license, Anany said. The Met has subsequently apologized to Egypt.
“This is not only for Egyptians, but for our common human heritage,” Anany told the foreign ambassadors who were present at the NMEC.
US Charge d’Affaires Thomas Goldberger attended the ceremony.
Anany said the repatriation of this “unique, wonderful” artifact shows a “very strong solidarity” between Egypt and the US.
He extended his thanks to the US side for his cooperation in repatriating the piece to its motherland, noting “the mutual coordination efforts meant to prevent the illicit traffic of human heritage.”
The coffin will be showcased in Egyptian Grand Museum in 2020, according to the minister of antiquities.
The gilded coffin was looted and smuggled out of Egypt in 2011, in the aftermath of the protests, Shaaban Abdel Gawad, supervisor general of Egypt’s Antiquities Repatriation Department told Xinhua.
He pointed out that investigations undertaken by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office lasted for nearly 20 months, during which Egypt has submitted evidence of ownership.
The coffin is craved in wood and covered with a layer of gold inscribed for Nedjemankh, a high-ranking priest of Heryshef of the city Herakleopolis, which is located in the upper Egypt province of Beni Suweif, he said.
The elaborately decorated surface included scenes and tests in thick gesso relief that were intended to protect and guide Nedjemankh on his journey from death to eternal life as a transfigured spirit, Abdel Gawad added.
The coffin’s return back took place in light of the 2016 joint agreement between Egypt and the US regarding the protection of Egyptian Antiquities, he added.
The 2-meter-long coffin was initially restored in the American prestigious museum, but it was damaged during the long journey of smuggling, Abdel Gawad added.
“The return of the unique coffin is a message for all the museums, exhibitions, private collections, bids and dealers around the world that Egypt will never abandon its stolen heritage,” he added, stressing Egypt is fighting to return all heritage back.
He reiterated more efforts are still exerted for tracing hundreds of other looted pieces abroad.