Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1244, (30 April - 6 May 2015)
Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Issue 1244, (30 April - 6 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Homeward pharaohs

Two collections of ancient Egyptian artefacts returned to Egypt this week from the United States and France, writes Nevine El-Aref

Al-Ahram Weekly

After almost six years of absence, two large collections of ancient Egyptian aretfacts have returned home. This week in a gala ceremony at the Cairo International Airport, Egypt received a collection of 123 ancient Egyptian artefacts from the United State. The artefacts were illegally smuggled out of the country at some point in 2009. The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) managed to find them and handed them back home. The discovery of these objects was first traced in 2009 when the ICE found a few of them in a Brooklyn garage in New York.

Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty said that the restored items include a painted Graeco-Roman sarcophagus as well as wooden boats with their crews, a number of limestone statues from the Third Intermediate Period, the remains of human skeletons, three wooden model boats with their crews from the Middle Kingdom and a large collection of Graeco-Roman coins.

In a gala ceremony held on 22 April at the National Geographic Society in Washington, officials from the ICE gathered to hand the collection to representatives of the Egyptian government. According to the Washington Times, Chief Assistant US Attorney Kelly Currie said, “The investigation started with a small piece — a tiny figurine. In this case it was the investigation of a suspect’s shipment that came into New York City. And when that piece was pulled, it unraveled an investigation that took several years.”

Currie went on to say that investigators, most of whom work at ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit, conducted a top-secret mission called “Operation Mummy’s Curse” targeting an international criminal network that illegally smuggled and imported over 7,000 cultural items from around the world.

“Preserving mankind’s cultural heritage is an increasingly difficult challenge in today’s society,” said US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Sarah R Saldaña in an ICE press release published by Fox News. “To think that some of these treasured artefacts were recovered from garages is unimaginable. It is an honor for ICE to investigate these kinds of cases and to assist other countries in preserving their heritage.”

Two days later, another batch of stolen and illegally smuggled antiquities was returned to Egypt from France. The collection includes 240 ancient Egyptian artefacts from various eras, including 49 heart-shaped onyx amulets, limestone stelae depicting an offering scene to the deities Isis and Osiris and wooden painted statuettes of sailors as well as gold rings and necklaces. A collection of wooden ushabti figurines and clay vessels of different sizes are also included, together with a number of Graeco-Roman metal coins.

For his part Eldamaty says these objects were illegally smuggled out of the country after illicit excavations at sites around Egypt, but the Ministry of Antiquities had managed to prove Egypt’s ownership of them. He asserted that over the last two days Egypt has repatriated 380 objects from the United States and France, “highlighting the ministry’s efforts to preserve Egypt’s heritage and return stolen objects to their homeland.” All retrieved objects, Eldamaty said, are to be restored and put on temporary display at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.

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