Al-Ahram Weekly Online   5 - 11 April 2012
Issue No. 1092
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Smugglers foiled again

Egypt has recuperated a large number of authentic ancient Egyptian artefacts including two anthropoid sarcophagus lids, Nevine El-Aref reports

Click to view caption
Some of the stolen artefacts that were retrieved from Brussels and Israel

Egypt's antiquities arena was blessed with good luck this week when 80 artefacts from various historical eras and the painted lids of two ancient sarcophagi, all of which had been stolen and illegally smuggled out the country, were found and will soon be retrieved.

The saga of the 80 objects began in April 2010 when the customs unit at Brussels airport caught an Egyptian woman red-handed as she tried to smuggle 80 small genuine objects. She had concealed them inside two large wooden replica statues and shipped them to the Belgian capital.

Belgian police confiscated the artefacts and called the Brussels National Museum to check their authenticity. Once the items were proved to be genuine ancient Egyptian items, the museum took the routine measure of sending the case to the Brussels court.

With the collaboration of the Egyptian Embassy in Brussels Egypt was able to prove its ownership of the confiscated collection and won a court ruling to have them restituted. The director of the returned antiquities section at the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA), Osama El-Nahhas, said the objects would return to Egypt within days. They include 11 small wooden and limestone statuettes, 11 amulets and 27 scarabs from the ancient Egyptian era; Islamic cylindrical seals; a Coptic child's robe and a small decorated piece of textile; a lion-shaped Ptolemaic pot and a prehistoric clay pot.

Also this week the two anthropoid lids were seized by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in the showroom of a shop in the Old City of Jerusalem. According to a statement by the MSA, these two lids were stolen and illegally smuggled out of the country after being modified to appear as fake replicas. They were first taken to Dubai, from where another flight took them to Israel. They subsequently turned up in a shop in the Old City of Jerusalem, and last September MSA officials asked for their return.

Mohamed Ibrahim, the minister of antiquities, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the ministry had sent an official letter to the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv requesting it to take all necessary legal and diplomatic procedures to restitute both artefacts.

The lids are now stored in a climate controlled room at the IAA, where archaeologists say they date to the 16th and 14th centuries BC respectively and are in a well-preserved condition. Each lid is of carved wood, painted on plaster and decorated with colourful religious scenes.

The Jerusalem Post reported: "Egypt has asked for the artefacts' repatriation, and officials from the IAA, Israeli Police and Foreign Ministry are now examining the request."

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