Looted, Trafficked and Displayed at a US Museum, “Green Coffin” Returns to Egypt
An ancient Egyptian wooden sarcophagus called the “Green Coffin” has been returned to its rightful home by US authorities, according to Egyptian officials. The sarcophagus had been exhibited at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences and it was repatriated after it was discovered to have been looted from an ancient tomb in Egypt and illegally sold in the US.
The “Green Coffin”
According to the BBC, the funerary casket, which measures 2.9m (9.5ft) in length, dates back to the Late Dynastic period from 664 BC to 332 BC. This was the last of native Egyptian pharaonic rule before Alexander the Great’s invasion in 332 BC paved the way for the Ptolemaic Greek dynasty to rule from 331 BC to 32 BC, when the Romans conquered the region.
The coffin, with a brightly painted top surface, may have housed the remains of an ancient priest named Ankhenmaat, reports CBS News . However, with the inscription on it having partially worn off, it is difficult to establish this with absolute certainty, Mostafa Waziri, the head of the country’s Supreme Council of Antiquities said.
The striking coffin is thought to have held the remains of ancient priest named Ankhenmaat. ( MOTA)
According to Al Jazeera , a symbolic handover by Daniel Rubinstein, the US chargé d’affaires in Egypt, took place at a ceremony in Cairo.
“Today's ceremony is emblematic of the long history of co-operation between the United States and Egypt on antiquities protection and cultural heritage preservation,” Rubinstein said, as reported by the BBC.
The ceremony was also attended by Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and the country’s Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Ahmed Issa. “A precious piece of Egypt’s history was recovered after cooperation with our friends in the US, and after efforts that lasted for several years,” Shoukry said about the handover. A news conference preceded the ceremony.
Egyptian and US officials shake hands alongside the coffin. ( MOTA)
More than three months ago, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office established that the artifact had been looted from Abu Sir Necropolis , north of Cairo. “This stunning coffin was trafficked by a well-organised network that has looted countless antiquities from the region,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg said at the time. It was smuggled via Germany into the US in 2008. A private collector loaned it to Houston Museum of Natural Science in 2013. “We are pleased that this object will be returned to Egypt, where it rightfully belongs,” Bragg went on to say.
According to Bragg, the same gang had been responsible for the smuggling of the gilded “gold coffin” out of Egypt that had been displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The coffin was stolen from the Minya region of Egypt in the turmoil following the 2011 uprising that deposed the country’s longstanding president Hosni Mubarak, Reuters reported. It was smuggled through several countries before landing up with a Paris art dealer who sold it to an unsuspecting Metropolitan Museum in 2017 for a sum of US$ 4 million. It was returned to Egypt in 2019 after the swindle was discovered.
Demands for Repatriation of Antiquities
The repatriation of the “Green Coffin” comes amidst strenuous efforts by Egypt to stop the trafficking of its antiquities. In 2021, these resulted in the return of 5,300 artifacts to Egypt from across the world.
In 2021, Israel returned 95 relics which had been smuggled into the country or into Jerusalem. In September 2022, the Metropolitan Museum returned 16 antiquities to Egypt after US authorities concluded they had been illegally trafficked. In December last year a university in Ireland announced that it was intending to repatriate a sarcophagus, mummified human remains and canopic jars--containers for organs removed from mummified individuals.
Egyptian archaeologists are now actively petitioning for the return of the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum. The Rosetta Stone is a very important exhibit of the Museum, given its role in the deciphering of Egypt’s ancient hieroglyphic script .
Egypt is not alone in such efforts. Museums across Europe and North America display antiquities that were forcibly acquired or looted from former colonies and protectorates. Several artifacts have been returned to their countries of origin in recent years. Germany, for example, entered into negotiations last year to return artifacts taken from its former African colonies.
Top image: The green coffin was received by the Egyptian authorities in a handing over ceremony. Source: Egyptian Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities
By Sahir Pandey
Al Jazeera. 2022. Egypt repatriates looted ancient Green Coffin sarcophagus from US. Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/1/2/egypt-repatriates-looted-ancient-green-coffin-sarcophagus-from-us.
CBS News. 2022. Looted ancient sarcophagus returned to Egypt from U.S . Available at: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/sarcophagus-returned-to-egypt-houston-museum-of-natural-sciences/.
Reuters. 2019. Egypt gets back looted gold coffin displayed in New York . Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-egypt-antiquities-idUSKBN1WG45M.
The BBC. 2022. Ancient Egyptian 'Green Coffin' returned to Cairo by US . https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-64147545.
So they can tell us how this highly organized racket stole and got the relic to the US, where it was ‘illegally sold’, but they cannot tell us the names or nationalities of those who had roles in the theft, trafficking and/or sale? Is cracking down on this type of thing, of no interest to them?
Nobody gets paid to tell the truth.