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

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee 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.
To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violencei
X
Lenny Ruvaga
November 27, 2014 7:05 PM
The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid