News / Africa

US Returns Ancient Sarcophagus to Egypt

View of head of the sarcophagus
View of head of the sarcophagus

Multimedia

Audio
David Dyar

In 2008, an ancient Egyptian coffin in a shipping crate raised the suspicions of a customs agent at the Miami, Florida, airport.  For the past two years, the ornate sarcophagus has been at the heart of an international mystery and investigation. The ancient artifact was returned to Egyptian possession Wednesday.

The painted wooden coffin, in the shape of an Egyptian man in a state of repose, took center stage at the National Geographic Society Wednesday, quite literally.

Full view of sarcophagus
Full view of sarcophagus

The empty 3,000-year-old sarcophagus was at the center of a transfer ceremony as U.S. officials handed over the apparently smuggled artifact to Egypt's chief of antiquities.

John Morton is the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.  His agency is tasked with seizing and investigating illegally imported art and antiquities.

"The case of this particular sarcophagus sounds like an international tale of intrigue that is worthy of a novel.  It involved the sale by a Spanish art gallery of a large wooden sarcophagus that was allegedly found in Europe or Egypt - the particular finder was never quite sure - some time around 1970," he said.  

But the latest chapter of this 3,000 year-old-tale begins with a customs agent's inkling in 2008 at the Miami airport.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agricultural Specialist Herbert Kercado was checking the crate for the usual concerns, such as beetles that can bore holes in wood.  But what caught his eye was the documents -- or the lack of documents -- that he felt should accompany a crate carrying a sarcophagus. "How come a sarcophagus was down and through Miami without any documents from the Egyptian government allowing that shipment to come in all the way to Miami?," he said.

He informed Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Morton said one of its special agents launched an international investigation. "That led us to Spain, Italy, to Egypt.  That involved Egyptologists, that involved Interpol, that involved the Egyptian government both here in the US and in Cairo," he said.

The investigation into the shadowy world of antiquities smuggling raised as many questions as it answered. "We learned that the alleged provenance on this particular sarcophagus was not real.  The alleged collection from which it came did not exist.  The Egyptians had never authorized the export of this particular sarcophagus whenever in fact it was exported, and who knows when that truly was," he said.   

Morton said the records of acquisition in Europe either did not exist, or were questionable, so the U.S. government seized the coffin.  U.S. officials then demonstrated in federal court that neither the shipper nor the U.S. buyer had legal claim to the ancient artifact, and the coffin was forfeited to the United States.

Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities Zahi Hawass praised the United States for its efforts. "I say this everywhere -- the country that helped us a lot until now in the return of stolen artifacts is the United States," he said.

Hawass said Egyptian and U.S. officials had been in almost daily contact in a bid to return the sarcophagus to its rightful owners -- and to unravel the mystery of just who used to be inside this coffin adorned with colorful painted figures. "He seems to be an important man.  Why?  The coffin is beautiful. Beautifully decorated, has beautiful scenes.  There is no one who is not important who could make a coffin like this," he said.

Hawass, a famed archaeologist and Egyptologist, said the man's name is Imhesy.  He said the coffin dates to back to the 21st Dynasty, right after the end of the New Kingdom and the golden age of Egypt. "People can think that the best moment in the life of an archaeologist is actually to discover something, but for me, the best thing is to return something to Egypt," Hawass said.

Hawass has spearheaded efforts to reclaim smuggled and stolen goods, and he has overseen the return of some 31,000 objects to Egypt since 2002.   

As for this coffin, it will go on display in Cairo April 7. Hawass says it will ultimately be exhibited at a museum that is under construction in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More