According to Egyptian officials, an ancient wooden sarcophagus displayed at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences was returned to Egypt after U.S. authorities determined it was looted years ago.
The repatriation is part of the Egyptian government’s efforts to combat antiquities trafficking. Cairo authorities were successful in having 5,300 stolen artifacts returned to Egypt from all over the world in 2021.
According to Mostafa Waziri, the Supreme Council of Antiquities’ top official, the sarcophagus dates back to the Late Dynastic Period of ancient Egypt. The period lasted from the last of the Pharaonic rulers in 664 B.C. until Alexander the Great’s campaign in 332 B.C.
The sarcophagus stands nearly 3 meters (9.5 feet) tall and has a brightly painted top surface. It may have belonged to an ancient priest named Ankhenmaat. Though some of the inscription on it has been erased.
Daniel Rubinstein, the United States’ chargé d’affaires in Egypt, handed it over symbolically in Cairo on Monday.
The sarcophagus was handed over more than three months after the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office determined it was looted. According to the officials, it was looted from Abu Sir Necropolis, north of Cairo. According to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, it was smuggled into the United States through Germany in 2008.
“This magnificent coffin was trafficked by a well-organized network that has looted countless antiquities from the region,” said Bragg. “We are delighted that this artefact will be returned to Egypt, where it belongs.”
According to Bragg, the same network smuggled a gilded coffin out of Egypt that is now on display at New York’s Metropolitan Museum. The Met purchased the piece from a Paris art dealer in 2017 for approximately $4 million. In 2019, it was returned to Egypt.